As their flight abruptly descended into Istanbul and hit the ground with a rumble, the passengers panicked. They soon relaxed when they heard a routine announcement that they could use their cellphones while the airliner raced down the runway.
But seconds later, the Pegasus Airlines plane plunged off the asphalt into a ditch and smashed apart, killing three people. The impact that ripped open the plane felt like an explosion. The tail section where the passengers, Şeref and Rümeysa Demirtaş had been seated straddled a retaining wall. They could see the ground.
"That's when the screams started," Rümeysa recalled from the hospital where her husband is being treated for a broken hip and shoulder. "People started jumping from the plane from that crack near us, first onto the wall, then to the ground and running away."
The crash-landing at Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen airport on Wednesday evening killed three people. The remaining 180 passengers and crew members on board were injured when the 11-year-old plane, which came in amid strong winds and heavy rain, skidded off the runway and split into three pieces. The co-pilot, a Dutch citizen, was critically injured and receiving treatment at a private hospital, while the captain, identified as M.A., was also hospitalized but not as badly hurt.
The husband, Şeref, told The Associated Press (AP) he was nervous when he noticed how rapidly the plane made its approach to the airport and touched down "not gradually, but very quickly."
"And then when there was an announcement that said, 'You may now use your cell phones.' I relaxed. I thought, 'Everything is fine,'" he said. "Then a few seconds passed, and this time the plane skidded off the runway and hurtled from a height of 30 meters."
Rümeysa described the panic she felt when she saw people fleeing the aircraft squeezing out of the cracks in the plane. She didn't know if her visually impaired husband would be able to get out. That was before either of them knew about his broken bones.
"One or two people were shouting 'The plane will explode! Run!' and I panicked even more," she said. "A seat had fallen on my husband and they (people) were stepping on it to pass through. I shouted, 'You're trampling my husband. Someone help!"
A man who heard her pleas helped pull Şeref from under the seat. The three of them pulled and pushed until they were out of the plane, off the wall and onto the grass.
Rümeysa and Şeref said they feel lucky and that their experience could have been much worse.
"When we got off the plane, I looked around and thought, 'I guess I died,'" Rümeysa said. "You know how they say the first to die doesn't understand that they're dead? We thought about that because to be able to get out of that plane like that alive, with barely a wound ... I said, 'Miracle.' I cannot say anything else."
As more witness stories emerge about the deadly accident, authorities also began delving deeper into the investigation.
Prosecutors took statements from two air traffic control staff and two airport employees, as well as from the pilots of two other planes who aborted landings shortly before the Pegasus flight touched down. Investigators were looking at many possible causes, including the plane's speed and the weather at the airport.
Work continued on Friday to remove the plane's wreck from its resting place. Authorities said all evidence at the scene was collected and that the plane would be split into pieces before being moved, adding that fire hazard due to fuel leak slowed the process.
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