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Thai plane crash kills 90, including 4 U.S. tourists

It skids and breaks in two trying to land in heavy rain. At least 29 passengers survive.

September 17, 2007|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Four American tourists were among 90 people killed when a low- budget airline jet crashed and burst into flames while landing in heavy rain Sunday on Thailand's resort island of Phuket.

The plane, which had taken off from the Thai capital, Bangkok, with 130 passengers and crew members, slid off the runway, split in two and caught fire as it crashed into trees about 3:30 p.m., according to local media reports.

A fifth American passenger was injured, U.S. Embassy spokesman Cynthia Brown said from Bangkok. She declined to provide further details about the American victims, and said consular staff were working with Thai authorities to identify the victims and notify relatives.

An airline official said 55 foreign tourists were among the dead. At least 29 people survived the crash, Thai officials said.

"The fire was throughout the airplane," Phuket Deputy Gov. Worraphot Ratsrimaa told the Bangkok Post. "We expect that at least 90% of the passengers died."

He told the Associated Press that the dead included Irish, Israeli, Australian and British passengers.

A Thai TV station broadcast video of what it said were two foreign survivors being carried away from the crash site. "I've flown on many airplanes before, and I can say there was something strange about our landing," survivor Nong Khaonuan told the station. "We seemed to drop down too fast."

Phuket, one of Thailand's most popular resort islands, is still recovering from the devastation of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The gigantic waves, and the massive earthquake that spawned them, killed more than 220,000 people in a dozen countries.

Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Thailand's air transportation authority, said One-Two-Go Airlines Flight OG269 from Bangkok's Don Muang airport attempted to land in heavy wind and rain, which made visibility poor.

The pilot "decided to make a go-around, but the plane lost balance and crashed," Angsuwan told the Bangkok Post. "The plane then fell onto the runway and broke into two."

One-Two-Go Airlines, Thailand's first budget carrier, promises the same fare for any of its 12 domestic and international routes. It was founded at the end of 2003 and is owned by Orient-Thai Airways.

The airline has just 13 aircraft, roughly divided between Boeing 747s and MD-82s, which McDonnell Douglas introduced in 1982 as a longer, improved version of the twin-engine DC-9. One-Two-Go's small fleet's average monthly capacity is 145,000 to 150,000 passengers, according to the company.

In 2004, a Boeing 747-200 operated by Orient-Thai came within about 650 feet of striking Tokyo Tower, a 1,093-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower that is a landmark in the Japanese capital.

The jumbo jet's captain had failed to brief the crew fully on the procedure for landing at Haneda, local media reported after the incident.

In an Internet posting before today's crash, airline Chairman Udom Tantiprasongchai told visitors to the airline's website that "we hope that the rainy season this year brings rain that washes away negativities and makes room for all the good things to come."

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paul.watson@latimes.com

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