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Turkish plane 'fell out of the sky'

Passengers had no warning in the deadly Amsterdam crash. 125 people survived.

HAARLEMMERLIEDE, Netherlands - The host of a popular Dutch television show was half-dozing with her head against the window of the Turkish Airlines jetliner when she was shocked awake by the sight of the ground looming up through the mist and drizzle.

There was no warning from the cockpit to brace for landing when the Boeing 737-800 with 134 people on board slammed into a muddy field yesterday about two miles short of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, breaking into pieces.

The fuselage tore in two near the cockpit, and the tail was ripped off. Despite the catastrophic impact, the wreckage did not burn, and nearly everyone - 125 people - survived. The nine dead included both pilots and an apprentice pilot.

TV host Jihad Alariachi was among those who walked away unscathed, scrambling out of the wreckage through emergency exits or cracks in the shattered fuselage.

"The ground was coming nearby, really nearby," Alariachi told Dutch radio station BNR. "Then we braked really hard. . . . The nose went up. And then we bounced . . . with the nose aloft."

She and her sister escaped through an exit "onto the wing, and then we were in a field, walking around," she said, her nose bloodied and her shoes missing.

Survivor Mustafa Bahcec, his forehead bruised, recalled: "The back of the plane was completely gone. It was a bloodbath, a terrible sight."

More than 50 people were injured, about half of them seriously. Authorities said the toll could have been far higher if the plane had not gone down in mud, which lessened the impact and helped avert a fire in the ruptured fuel tanks and lines on the underside of the fuselage.

In addition, having reached its destination, the plane would have used up most of its fuel, lessening the chances of a fuel-driven fire. Authorities would not say whether the plane sent out a distress call before the crash.

Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said it was "a miracle" there were not more casualties.

The head of the Dutch Safety Authority, Pieter van Vollenhoven, said the plane appeared to have lost speed before crashing, and witnesses said it dropped from about 300 feet. "You see that because of a lack of speed, it literally fell out of the sky," he told NOS radio.

Most of the passengers on board were Turkish. Four Boeing employees were also aboard, said Jim Proulx, a spokesman for the company. All four are based in the Seattle area. Proulx said the company was sending a team to provide technical assistance to the Dutch as they investigate.

The plane's flight-data recorders were recovered and were to be analyzed. Investigators will explore a wide range of possible causes, including weather, insufficient fuel, navigational errors, pilot fatigue, and bird strikes. Turkish officials said the plane was built in 2002 and had last undergone thorough maintenance Dec. 22.

Investigators said initial results could be made public soon because of the sophistication of the Boeing 737-800s black box, although the full report will likely not be ready before the end of the year.

Experts say crashes involving modern airliners are more survivable because of engineering advances that have resulted in strengthened structures and fire retardant technologies used for cabin seats and furnishings, as well as better emergency training of cockpit and cabin crews.

The most dramatic example of passenger survival was the Hudson River landing last month of a US Airways Airbus A320 that lost engine power when it struck a flock of birds. All 155 passengers and crew lived despite the watery landing.

As with yesterday's crash, most of the accidents in which many survive have occurred at or near airports, and in most cases the pilots maintained control, maneuvering to soften the final impact.

Hours after the crash, emergency crews still swarmed around the cockpit, where the pilots' bodies were later removed.

Last night, six of the injured passengers were reported in critical condition, 25 had been seriously hurt, and 24 had slight injuries, health authorities said. Survivors were taken to 11 hospitals.