Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Wednesday, 25 February 2009

How the Schiphol crash happened

Turkish Airlines Flight TK1951 was carrying at least 128 passengers and seven crew on a morning flight from Istanbul when it hit the ground some distance short of Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

Graphic: Schiphol Airport

The crash happened at 1031 local time [0931 GMT]. The plane was making its final approach to runway 18R when it crashed into a ploughed field close to the A9 motorway.

It broke into three pieces but did not catch fire.

Helpers arrived at the scene very quickly and gave first aid on the spot.

Four Americans and five Turks died, among them three pilots and a flight attendant. Dozens were injured, several of them critically.

A week after the crash, investigators said a faulty altimeter played a role in the accident.

Crashed Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 near Schiphol Airport
The aircraft came down in a ploughed field about 1.5 km from the runway

Dutch Safety Board chairman Pieter van Vollenhoven said the plane was landing on automatic pilot and the problem with the altimeter led to a loss of speed.

He said the plane had been at an altitude of 595m (1950ft) when making its landing approach to Schiphol airport. However, one of the plane's altimeters recorded an altitude of minus eight feet.

Consequently, the plane's autopilot systems believed the plane was already touching down, he said.

The automatic throttle controlling the two engines was closed and they powered down. This led to the plane losing speed, and stalling.

'It completely lost propulsion'

This version of events is consistent with eyewitness statements at the time.

A student who witnessed the crash said the plane appeared to be gliding into the airport without engine power.

Tomas Friedhoff told the BBC: "At first it didn't seem that odd because it was flying low but aeroplanes do that around Schiphol. "At a certain point I realised I was hearing engine noise, but it wasn't coming from that plane.

"It was gliding through the air trying to make the runway. It completely lost propulsion or couldn't glide anymore, and you clearly saw it come down several tens of metres and come to a quite sudden stop," he added.

Engine from crashed Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800
Both engines sheared off from the wings in the crash

Warning alarm

Mr Van Vollenhoven said that a conversation recorded between the captain and two first officers in the cockpit showed they had noticed the faulty altimeter but did not consider it to be a problem, the Associated Press reported.

"The crew initially did not react to these events, he said, but when a warning system sounded, they tried to restart the engines.

"But the plane was too low at 150m. As a consequence the plane crashed 1km before the runway," said Mr Van Vollenhoven.

The plane hit the ground with a forward speed of 175 km per hour (109 mph) on impact. An aircraft should normally have a speed of 260 km per hour for landing, the safety board said.

Most of the fatally wounded were near the break in the main fuselage, in business class. The three crew members in the cockpit died as a result of the enormous braking forces on impact.

Flight safety

Schiphol airport has a good safety record and is considered by pilots to be one of the premier airports in the world with a very good layout.

The Boeing 737-800 aircraft has an equally good safety record, experts say.

BOEING 737-800
Boeing's 737-800

It is one of the latest versions of Boeing's 737 family of jetliners that has been flying since the mid-1960s and is considered the most successful aircraft of its type.

The 800 version first flew in 1997 and came into service the following year. This particular aircraft was delivered to Turkish Airlines in 2002.

There have been three previous crashes involving the single aisle, twin engine, short-to-medium range plane which can carry between 162 and 189 passengers.

In September 2006 a 737-800 collided with an executive jet mid-air over Brazil, killing all on board.

In May the following year, a Kenya Airways flight crashed in southern Cameroon. All 105 passengers and nine crew were killed.

Three months later, a China Airlines 737-800 caught fire shortly after landing. All on board were safely evacuated.

Turkish Airlines has a good safety record. It is rated a four star airline by Skytrax, industry research advisors to the world airline and air transport industry. This is the same rating as Virgin and British Airways.

The last crash involving a Turkish Airlines plane was in 2003 when 65 people died in an accident in eastern Turkey.

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