Kyrgyzstan: Cargo Plane Crashes on Homes Killing Dozens
A Turkish cargo plane crashed outside the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, early on January 16, killing at least 37 people and destroying dozens of homes.
According to preliminary and unconfirmed information, the Boeing 747-400F crashed on a cluster of homes in the Dacha-Suu complex next to Manas International Airport at around 7:29 a.m. as it was coming in to land.
Officials said 37 people have been killed, but with recovery work still ongoing it will be some time before a final figure is confirmed. There are believed to be several children among the dead.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziyev has said that the accident may have been caused by pilot error and that 11 airplanes had landed safely in the past day despite heavy fog. Abulgaziyev said that the plane tried to land on two occasions and at one stage damaged the landing strip illumination.
“This crew has flown [to Manas airport] 3-4 times. They know the landing strip at Manas airport. The visibility was 400 meters. That is why the flight controller at Kyrgyzaeronavigatsiya gave them clearance to land. The conditions were suitable for landing. So the provisional explanation is that the crash was due to crew error,” Abulgaziyev was quoted as saying by local media.
While officials have said the conditions were good enough for the cargo plane to land, an aircraft carrying President Almazbek Atambayev to Bishkek from China on January 15 was diverted to the small Tamchy airport in the Issyk-Kul region because of the weather. Motorists driving around Bishkek on the eve of the crash reported being able to see only a few meters ahead because of the fog.
ATC Airlines, which operated the flight under the MyCargoAirlines brand, expressed its condolences in a statement and said investigations were needed to establish a cause of accident.
“The cause of the accident is unknown at this time and further details will be provided as they become available,” the company said.
The plane had been due to stop in Bishkek’s Manas International Airport for refueling during its Hong Kong to Istanbul flight. The aircraft was Boeing 747-400F freighter operated under the aegis of Istanbul-based air freight company MyCargoAirlines.
There is some remaining confusion about who was actually operating the plane at the time of the accident. While the craft is property of MyCargoAirlines, it was flying under flight number THY6491, which suggests an affiliation with Turkish Airlines. Turkish Airlines has said on Twitter, however, that “neither the aircraft nor the crew are members of Turkish Airlines.”
Manas airport has been shut down pending efforts to handle the fallout from the crash.
The dacha complex were the plane crashed was built in 1986 and is home to around 265 families, according to a Sputnik report. The perimeter of the complex is around 1.5 kilometers from the landing strip.
Police in Sokuluk district, where the plane crashed, have told AKIpress news agency that there have been reported instances of looting at the site of the accident. The claims are being investigated, police said.
Atambayev has declared January 17 a day of mourning.
This article was updated with additional information.