Myanmar probes deadly plane crash-landing

Myanmar on Wednesday hunted for clues about the cause of an airplane crash-landing that left two people dead, as foreign tourists told of their miraculous escape from the burning jet.

The ageing Air Bagan Fokker 100 jet came down in thick fog Tuesday and caught fire in a field short of the runway at Heho airport -- the gateway to the popular tourist destination of Inle Lake, according to officials.

One Burmese tour guide on board was killed along with a motorcyclist on the ground. About 11 people received hospital treatment including foreigners.

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Passengers on board said there was no warning that anything was wrong as the plane descended.

"When I looked out, I saw all of a sudden there was no runway. Then there was an impact," said David Antoni, 27, from Germany.

"We all just got on our knees because there was a lot of smoke coming through the airplane," he told AFP while recovering at a nearby hotel. "Some people jumped through the fire" to escape from the plane, he said.

The carrier said the injured included two Americans who were flown to Bangkok for treatment. Two Britons, one Korean man and the two pilots were also hurt.

"We are still working to find out the cause," Civil Aviation Department deputy director general Win Swe Tun, who is heading the investigation into the crash, told AFP at Heho airport.

He said the plane appeared to have hit a power cable while approaching the runway but it was unclear if that was the reason for the accident.

"Seventy of the 71 people on board survived and one died -- it's very rare," he added.

Air Bagan, which described the incident as an "emergency landing", said the plane's black box data recorder had been retrieved.

One eyewitness said flames were already spewing from the plane before it crash-landed.

"We followed the plane as it flew on fire," said 27-year-old villager Phoe La Pyae.

"When we saw the plane, the wing was broken already," he said. "It was so lucky. If the emergency exit had not been opened, no one would have survived."

The body of the aircraft was almost entirely burned while part of a wing was seen lying next to a nearby road.

"It turns out that the wings had come off but we didn't know that," said 31-year-old Australian Anna Bartsch who was on board. "I was thinking the fuel would explode there at any minute."

The airline -- owned by tycoon Tay Za who is known for his close links to the former junta -- said 26 passengers were flown to Yangon on a special flight Tuesday and taken to hospital for examination while others would follow.

"Air Bagan deeply regret the deaths of two persons and tender its condolences to the bereaved families," the airline said in an English-language statement posted on its Facebook page.

"Air Bagan in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport is investigating into the cause of the accident. We will take full responsibility for all passengers and will release further information as we received it."

The airline is one of several domestic carriers seeking to profit from a tourist boom in Myanmar as it emerges from decades of military rule.

The incident raised fresh questions about the safety standards of Myanmar's fast-growing but overstretched aviation and tourist industries as foreign visitors flock to the country which is emerging from decades of junta rule.

"There is already a need to upgrade Myanmar's domestic airports and infrastructure and an incident like this will likely further highlight this need, putting additional pressure on authorities to respond and invest," said Brendan Sobie, Singapore-based chief analyst at the Centre for Aviation consultancy firm.

by Hla Hla Htay © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Dec 26, 2012