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Crash landing on Thai island kills 90

Fire engulfs plane; foreign tourists among the dead

PHUKET, Thailand - A plane carrying foreign tourists crashed yesterday as it tried to land in stormy weather on the resort island of Phuket, killing at least 90 people, including 54 foreign tourists.

Some passengers were engulfed in flames, while others kicked out windows to escape the smoke-filled cabin.

The budget One-Two-Go Airlines flight was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew members from the capital Bangkok to Phuket when it skidded off the runway in driving wind and rain, officials said. It then ran through a low retaining wall and split in two.

Survivors described their escape amid chaos, smoke, and fire.

"As soon as we hit, everything went dark and everything fell," said Mildred Furlong, 23, a waitress from British Columbia, Canada.

The plane started filling with smoke and fires broke out, she said. A passenger in front of her caught fire, while one in the back kicked out a plane window.

The foreigners on board included tourists from Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, and Israel, government and hospital officials said.

Both pilots were killed. About 60 bodies were retrieved quickly, but it took hours to get the other bodies out. Parts of the twisted plane lay smoking at the side of the runway, while officials wearing masks carried bodies wrapped in white sheets to an airport storage building.

Survivors said the plane landed hard and appeared to be out of control.

"Our plane was landing. You can tell it was in trouble, because it kind of landed, then came up again the second time," said John Gerard O'Donnell of Ireland, speaking from his hospital bed.

"I came out on the wing of the plane . . . the exit door, it was kind of crushed and I had to squeeze through. And saw my friend, he was outside. He just got out before me. And next thing, it really caught fire, then I just got badly burned, my face, my legs, my arms," he said.

Parinwit Chusaeng, who was slightly burned, said some passengers were engulfed.

"I stepped over them on the way out of the plane," Parinwit told the Nation TV channel. "I was afraid that the airplane was going to explode, so I ran away."

Piyanooch Ananpakdee, a coordinator at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, said some survivors told her that passengers stepped on others trying to flee the plane.

She said five people were in critical condition at her hospital, including a British woman with burns over 60 percent of her body and another person with broken ribs. Many of the injured also had broken bones from jumping from the aircraft, she said.

Dr. Charnsilp Wacharajira said some deaths were a result not of the fire, but the impact of the crash.

Officials said it was too early to say what caused the crash, but weather was probably a factor. The plane's flight data recorder was recovered.

"The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land. He decided to make a go-around [make another landing attempt] but the plane lost balance and crashed," said Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand. Phuket island is popular with Thai and foreign tourists for its pristine beaches. It was among the areas hit hardest by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 8,000 people on the island.

Yesterday's plane crash was Thailand's deadliest since December 1998, when 101 people were killed in a Thai Airways crash at Surat Thani, 330 miles south of Bangkok. Forty-five people survived.

One-Two-Go Airlines began operations in December 2003 and is the domestic subsidiary of Orient-Thai Airlines, a regional charter carrier based in Thailand.

The accident was likely to raise new questions about the safety of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, which have experienced rapid growth in recent years. None of Thailand's budget airlines had previously suffered a major accident, but there have been several deadly crashes in Indonesia.

An Adam Air flight plunged into the sea off the Indonesian coast on New Year's Day, killing 102 people. In 2004, an MD-82 operated by Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air skidded off the runaway in heavy rain at Solo airport in Central Java and crashed, killing 26 people.

Many budget airlines use older planes that have been leased or purchased after years of use by other airlines.

According to Thai and US aviation registration data, the plane that crashed in Phuket was manufactured and put into use in 1983, and began flying in Thailand in March this year.

About 12 million people visit Thailand each year.

With a fleet of 13 planes, One-Two-Go carries an average of 145,000 to 150,000 passengers each month, the company said.

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