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83 Feared Dead as Jet Crashes Off Thai Coast

September 01, 1987|From Times Wire Services

BANGKOK, Thailand — A Thai airliner with 83 people aboard nose-dived into a bay off the resort island of Phuket on Monday, and all those aboard were believed killed, officials said.

Marine police in Phuket, 430 miles south of Bangkok, said there were no known survivors from the Thai Airways Boeing 737. Two Americans, who boarded the plane at the last minute, were thought to be among the victims of the 3:40 p.m. crash.

By nightfall, rescuers had recovered 12 bodies. Boats with searchlights continued the hunt, but officials said there is little hope anyone will be found alive. If there are no survivors, it will be Thailand's worst air accident.

'Completely Submerged'

"I don't think there will be any survivors," said Prayoon Thaweesang, the director of Phuket airport. "The plane has completely submerged."

The plane, with 74 passengers and nine crew members, was on a domestic flight from southeast Thailand to Phuket, a popular retreat off the southwest coast.

The managing director of Thai Airways said that initial reports indicated the jet was trying to avoid another plane. Narong Dithipen added, "In trying to avoid the other aircraft, the Thai Airways plane plunged into the sea." He said both planes were on their final approach to Phuket airport and were scheduled to land minutes apart.

Narong said his information--gleaned from the Phuket control tower's early report--indicated that the crash occurred "because the Thai plane was avoiding a Boeing 737 of Dragonair (a Hong Kong airline) as it was in the process of preparing its approach to the airfield in the final stage of flight."

However, Phuket Gov. Chalerm Promlero said today that he doubted reports of a "near miss." He said witnesses saw smoke coming from the front of the Thai Airways plane before it nose-dived into the water.

"Both were coming in at reduced speed, the Thai Airways plane ahead," Chalerm said.

Airport director Prayoon said the pilot of the Dragonair flight, which landed safely, had seen the Thai plane spin into the sea.

A statement from Dragon Airlines Ltd. in Hong Kong said company officials spoke to the captain of the aircraft and were "assured that the Dragonair aircraft was not involved." The plane returned to Hong Kong with 125 passengers, and its crew refused to comment.

The two-year-old airline's flight to Phuket is one of the few routes it has outside of those to several cities in China and Japan.

An American couple, William Neil and Jantree Ward, were reported to have been on the Thai plane. U.S. Embassy officials said they have been informed of the missing Americans but had no hometown or other information.

In addition to the Americans, other foreign passengers reportedly included three Japanese, three French, one Italian and about 30 ethnic Chinese, mostly from Malaysia. The Thai victims included a Buddhist monk and a baby.

Some of the wreckage was scattered more than 1,000 yards from the point of impact, officials said.

Narong, of Thai Airways, said he could not confirm reports of an explosion, adding that the noise could have been the sound of impact.

Thailand's last serious air crash was also at the island. In April, 1985, a Thai Airways craft crashed while landing late at night, killing four passengers and seven crew members.

In 1976, 72 people were killed when an Egyptian airliner plowed into a textile factory as it was about to land at Bangkok's Don Muang airport. Fifty-two on board the plane perished; 20 workers on the ground also were killed.

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