AMSTERDAM, Feb 26 – A Turkish Airways jet crashed into a muddy field as it came in to land at Amsterdam airport killing at least nine people but officials said it was a "miracle" there were not more victims.
Witnesses described seeing the tail of the Boeing 737-800 hit the edge of a busy road in light fog and drag along the ground before the twin-engine airliner broke into three just short of the Schiphol airport runway.
More than 80 people were injured, with six in critical condition in hospital and another 25 "seriously" wounded, Dutch authorities said. The bodies of the dead were taken to an airport morgue.
While many among the 127 passengers and seven crew on the flight from Istanbul fought their way out of the mess of tangled wreckage, local residents and car drivers rushed to the scene.
About 40 passengers quickly escaped through a hole in the cabin caused by a wing that was ripped off, one witness told Dutch television channel NOS.
"The chance of survival in plane accidents is close to zero. And this is a miracle," Turkey’s Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said of the death toll, Anatolia news agency reported.
Tuncer Mutluhan, a representative for a Turkish bank in the Netherlands, said everything happened in a flash as the jet approached Schiphol on Wednesday morning after a three-hour flight.
"While we were making a normal landing, it felt like we fell into a void, the plane lost control, suddenly plunged and crashed," he told Turkish television channel NTV.
"It all happened in three or five seconds … There was panic after that."
About 750 ambulance and fire crew took part in the rescue operation that was quickly set underway. The injured were taken to about 11 different hospitals in the region.
Bodies were at first laid out under white sheets next to the wreckage.
Authorities were identifying the dead late Wednesday, but officials confirmed that three of those killed were crew in the cockpit of flight TK 1951 at the time of the crash.
According to rescue officials, six of the injured were in critical condition. "We cannot tell at this stage whether they will survive," said emergency services spokeswoman Ineke van der Zande.
The Turkish transport ministry said the flight carried 78 Turkish nationals and 56 people of other nationalities.
Haarlemmermeer mayor Theo Weterings, whose town includes Schiphol, told a press conference the identification of the dead "will take time," but more information should be available Thursday.
Passenger Kerem Uzel said the airplane’s tail hit the edge of the highway near the airport.
"We were at an altitude of 600 metres (2000 feet) when we heard the announcement that we were landing," Kerem Uzel told NTV.
"We suddenly descended a great distance as if the plane fell into turbulence. The plane’s tail hit the ground … It slid from the side of the motorway into the field."
The Turkish transport minister said the fact that the jet hit soft ground and there was no fire had "decreased the death toll."
Amsterdam-Schiphol police chief Robert Veltman said the number of victims was also limited because the aircraft had been flying at low altitude when it came down.
But survivors told of the panic on board with passengers stuck between seats screaming for help.
Dutch television station NOS said witnesses saw the plane gliding the final distance to the runway without its engines, its tail angled towards the ground.
The engines were found some 100 metres from the rest of the wreckage. There was no fire and no smoke.
Family members and friends gathered anxiously at the airport were taken to a nearby sports hall to wait for news and survivors.
A special flight arranged by Turkish Airlines for 67 relatives of those on the plane that crashed arrived late Wednesday, with psychologists waiting to help them.
Investigators said they had found the plane’s black box but would not comment on the possible causes of the crash. The Turkish transport ministry said the jet could have been making an emergency landing.
"We have just started our investigation, it will take some months at least before we have information about that," Fred Sanders, a spokesman for the Dutch Safety Board told AFP.