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37 visa-change passengers killed in plane crash

By Meraj Rizvi, Hani M. Bathish, Tarek Fleihan, Ramona Ruiz, Prerna Suri / 11 February 2004

SHARJAH - All but three of 40 passengers and six crew on board the Fokker 50 belonging to Kish Airlines died when it crashed in Sharjah yesterday morning. The turbo-prop aircraft ploughed through a sandy area just before the Sharjah International Airport runway, located between two residential areas. Eye-witnesses reported seeing flames leap from both wings and could have sworn both engines were on fire as it came in to land.

The aircraft, Flight-7170 coming from Kish, veered sharply to the left as it was lining up for a landing in Sharjah International Airport (SIA), and hit nose first into the sand, obliterating the cockpit and much of the front section of the aircraft. The rest of the wreckage scrapped along an asphalt road in the middle of the Al Ramakiya residential district located between Sharjah and Ajman. No one on the ground was hurt.

An official from the SIA who was among the first to arrive at the scene told Khaleej Times that the pilot never radioed in that he was facing technical difficulties and that they were stunned to hear of the crash.

On board were 12 Indians, 12 Iranians, one UAE national, two Algerians, four Egyptians, one Nepalese, one Syrian, one Sudani, two Filipions, one Nigerian, one Bangladeshi and one from Cameroon, and one infant not mentioned on the passenger list.

One of the black boxes, either the flight data recorder or voice recorder, was recovered from the crash site at around 2pm. An Investigation Committee was formed to look into the causes of the crash. The committee includes representatives from Sharjah Civil Aviation Department.

The Director of the Rescue and Transport Department at Dubai Police, Brigadier Jassem Mohammed Bel Rumeitha, who arrived at scene later, said the aircraft crashed at 11.45am. "We received the report after 20 minutes from the crash and sent assistance to Sharjah Police to help remove the bodies and take them to the forensic laboratory for DNA tests to identify the passengers," he said.

All corpses were loaded into a refrigerator truck and taken to Dubai Forensic Laboratory for identification. Brig. Bel Rumaitha spoke of the skill of the pilot who managed to bring the

aircraft down in an uninhabited sandy area. Representatives from the Iranian Consulate arrived at the scene to survey the damage.

Colonel Saleh Ali Al Mutawa, Director General of Sharjah Police, said the Sharjah Civil Aviation Department has contacted civil aviation authorities in Kish and confirmed there were passengers of various nationalities on board.

Sharjah Police cordoned off the area and prevented people from approaching the wreckage. Police estimated that over 2,000 curious by standers milled around the wreckage site.

Addressing a Press conference at the airport, Dr. Ghanem Al Hajri, Director General, Department of Civil Aviation and Sharjah Airport Authority, said that the cause of the air crash was a technical error and that air traffic control reports at the time gave no indication that the plane was in any trouble.

"The plane was in the final stage of landing and was cleared by our airport officials to land. Air traffic communication of that time does not suggest that the plane was in any trouble and the pilot did not send us an emergency signal to indicate a problem," said Dr. Al Hajri.

Officials were also quick to point out that the crash was not an act of terrorism and in most probability, suffered from a technical fault. "So far, there is no indication to support the idea that the plane was sabotaged and that this was an act of terrorism. A full investigation will take place to determine what exactly went wrong and this may take at least a few months," said Mohammed Al Ghaith, Director General, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority.

The aircraft belonged to Kish airlines and was of Dutch make "This particular plane was used for short-haul flights and was in excellent condition. An Iranian delegation will aid us in our investigation and we hope to find some answers very soon," said Mr. Al Gaith.

The plane, officials say, crashed on impact with the ground and there was no sign of a mid-air explosion. Referring to an earlier crash in Sharjah, Mr. Al Ghaith, said that this was a coincidence and that Sharjah airport took international safety rules and regulations very seriously.

"We take the international rules very seriously and enforce strict regulations on incoming aircraft. Such a crash can take place anywhere and it was merely a coincidence that it happened here," said Mr. Al Ghaith.

The Sharjah airport has set up a dedicated hot-line to assist family members with any enquires related to the crash. People can contact them on - 06- 508 4117/ 508 4116/ 508 1500.

Dispelling speculation that the aircraft was not in good condition and was unfit to fly, Mr. Al Ghaith said that the age of the aircraft had nothing to do with its flyability, and the GCAA regulated civil aviation and provided designated aviation services with observance to the safety and security to strengthen the aviation industry within the UAE and its upper space. Mr. Al Ghaith stressed that it usually takes two to three months for investigations into crashes to be completed.

A Kish Airline official said the aircraft, used for visa change flights, was a Dutch aircraft purchased only two years ago. Fairly new, the ill fated aircraft was reported to be in good condition and had undergone proper maintenance.

According to the official the Kish Airlines 7170 flight from Kish to Sharjah crashed few minutes before landing at the Sharjah International Airport. The flight left Sharjah at 9.30 am and was expected to return at around 12 noon. However, this was not a scheduled flight of Kish Airlines. It was a chartered operation by a Dubai-based Al Jazeera and Qeshm Travels.

Qeshm Travels officials in Dubai confirmed that the ill fated aircraft was wet leased from Kish Airlines only for visa change flights. "We operate the chartered flights five times a week based on the passenger load. The aircraft are wet leased so the travel company is not involved in the maintenance of these aircraft. But the official said the aircraft was fairly new and in good condition.

 
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