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Turkish Airlines Crash Remains A Mystery

Investigators took detailed photos of the wreckage of a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 and analyzed black box recordings Thursday, trying to piece together why the plane lost speed and crashed into a muddy field, killing nine people and injuring 86.

Flight TK1951 from Istanbul fell out of the sky about two miles short of the runway at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Wednesday morning, smashing into three pieces and spraying luggage and debris across a farmer's field. It was carrying 134 passengers and crew.

Despite the catastrophic impact, the wreckage did not burn and a good number of people walked away with only minor injuries.

The passengers and crew came from at least nine different countries, including seven Americans and three Britons, mayor Theo Weterings told reporters.

Most of the passengers were Dutch and Turkish, but there were also one person each from Germany, Taiwan, Finland, Bulgaria and Italy. Weterings said the nationalities of 15 of the passengers still had not been confirmed. Four of the Americans were Boeing employees.

He said 121 people were treated for injuries in 13 different hospitals and six were still in critical condition. Of the others, an airport official said earlier that 25 were considered seriously hurt.

Three of those killed were Turkish pilots, Weterings said. The identities of the remaining six victims and of four critically injured passengers still were not known.

He said investigators were not yet revealing any details of their probe into the cause of the deadly crash.

Investigators in white overalls and blue helmets clambered in and out of the wreckage Thursday while others inspected the remains of the plane's two engines.

Fred Sanders, spokesman for the Dutch Safety Authority, said the flight's data recorders and voice tapes have been sent to Paris, where crash investigation experts will analyze the recordings. He said that study would take several days.

Investigators plan to interview crew members, passengers and witnesses on the ground and will explore a number of possible causes, including insufficient fuel, weather-related factors or bird strikes. Sanders said a preliminary result may be made public soon, although the full report will not be ready for months.

A team of Turkish experts left for the Netherlands to help in the investigation. Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim also paid tribute to the pilot for minimizing casualties by landing on the soft field.

"I would like to commemorate the pilot, who at the cost of his own life, ensured that human casualties were low," Yildirim said.

One survivor, Jihad Alariachi, said there was no warning from the cockpit to brace for landing before the ground loomed up through the drizzle.

"We braked really hard, but that's normal in a landing. And then the nose went up. And then we bounced ... with the nose aloft" before the final impact, she said.

Witnesses on the ground said the plane dropped from about 300 feet.

Families of Turkish victims arrived on a chartered flight from Istanbul late Wednesday.

A retired pilot who listened to a radio exchange between air traffic controllers and the aircraft shortly before the crash said he didn't hear anything unusual.

"Everything appeared normal," said Joe Mazzone, a former Delta Air Lines captain. "They were given clearance to descend to 7,000 feet."

Just before the end of the 52-second recording, the last thing heard is the controllers giving the tower frequency to the pilots and instructing them to get clearance to land, said Mazzone, who lives in Auburn, Alabama. The pilots acknowledged the instruction.

There was no way to tell from the Web recording if there was more communication between the aircraft and the officials at the airport or exactly how long the exchange came prior to the crash. Mazzone said the point where the transmission ended would likely have been two to four minutes before the plane would have normally landed.

Sanders said the exchange was part of the investigation.

Weather at the airport at the time was cloudy with a slight drizzle.

Turkish Airlines chief Temel Kotil said the captain, Hasan Tahsin, was an experienced former air force pilot. Turkish officials said the plane was built in 2002 and last underwent thorough maintenance on Dec. 22.

It was the deadliest crash in the Netherlands since a vintage DC3 crashed in a shallow sea on Sept. 25, 1996, killing 32 people. The country's worst crash came on Oct. 4, 1992, when an El Al cargo Boeing 747 slammed into an apartment block near Schiphol killing 43 people.

Turkish Airlines has had several serious crashes since 1974, when 360 people died in the crash of a DC-10 near Paris after a cargo door came off. More recently, in 2003, 75 died when an RJ-100 missed the runway in heavy fog in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir.

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