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August 5, 2009

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Pilot killed as aircraft crashes on Thai island

A PLANE skidded off the runway and crashed into an air traffic control tower after landing on the Thai resort island of Samui yesterday, killing the chief pilot and injuring at least seven people on board, officials said.

The co-pilot and six others were injured after the Bangkok Airways flight landed in stormy weather and hit the airport's old tower, said Kanikka Kemawutanond, director-general of the Department of Civil Aviation.

"The heavy damage was at the front of the plane where the pilot was. It looks like he suffered from the impact," police Major Colonel Sayan Sartsri said.

The co-pilot, who was stuck in the aircraft, was among the last to be evacuated from the stricken plane.

Kannikka, who earlier reported that 34 persons had been injured, said that only seven were hospitalized while others just sustained bruises and shock.

"(They) are resting at hotels before they are transferred to Bangkok," she said.

Samui, located 480 kilometers south of Bangkok, is an island in the Gulf of Thailand popular with foreign tourists.

Puttipong Prasartthong-Osoth, managing director of Bangkok Airways, said the foreign passengers included nationals of Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany and Great Britain.

He said four passengers - two Britons, one Italian and one Swiss - suffered broken legs, while two other Britons suffered less severe injuries. The co-pilot also had leg injuries.

Kanikka said the ATR72-500 twin-turboprop had 68 passengers, two pilots and two crew members on board and was flying from Krabi, another popular resort in southern Thailand.

"Initial reports indicated that the weather was bad with heavy rain and wind. We do not know what the pilot did or did not do that led to the incident at this point and I would rather not speculate," she said.

Kanikka said the Samui airport runway was closed and at least one Thai Airways flight was canceled, according to The Associated Press.

In 1990, a Bangkok Airways turboprop crashed into a coconut grove short of the airport during heavy rain, killing all 37 people on board.

The French-Italian manufactured ATR72 has been involved in a number of incidents in recent years.

One in South Korea skidded off the runway while landing at the resort island of Jeju in 2006, injuring six people. Two years earlier, an ATR72 of Thai Airways had to make an emergency evacuation of passengers when its front landing gear collapsed during a landing in Thailand.

A Cambodian airliner slipped off a runway and got stuck in the mud near the ancient temples of Angkor in 2001. And in 1994, a Chicago-bound American Eagle ATR-72 crashed in northern Indiana, killing all 68 people aboard.


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