air crash

Pilot error initially suspected in Kyrgyzstan crash of cargo plane which departed from Hong Kong

Disaster killed four pilots and at least 28 people on the ground

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 11:33am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 11:29pm

Pilot error appeared to have caused the crash of a cargo plane in Kyrgyzstan that departed Hong Kong International Airport, killing at least 32 people, local officials said.

The Boeing 747 freighter jumbo jet slammed into a residential neighbourhood – killing many people on the ground – near the country’s main airport in the capital Bishkek. Flight TK6491 attempted to land on Monday morning, with a temperature of minus 11 degrees Celsius outside and the airport immersed in thick fog.

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The country’s deputy prime minister said preliminary tests suggested pilot error caused the accident, but said terrorism could not be ruled out.

“Now we cannot say who is guilty of the accident. According to preliminary estimates of experts, it was pilot error,” Mukhammetkaly Abulgaziyev said, according to local news agency 24.kg.

“Everything will be known after the investigation,” he said, adding that he could not rule out whether the plane had been overloaded.

At least four pilots – reportedly all Turkish nationals – were on board and died in the crash. The rest of those killed were on the ground when the plane crashed. The crew had flown to the airport before and was familiar with the weather conditions, officials said.

Prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation, citing possible safety violations.

The country’s health minister Talantbek Batyraliev told local media that in total 32 people had died including 12 minors, and several more were in hospital.

The aircraft was operated by ACT Airlines, also known as myCargo Airlines, on behalf of Turkish Airlines. In 2011, the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group bought a 49 per cent stake in the cargo operator.

The flight took off from Hong Kong for Bishkek at 3.12am on Monday and crashed at 7.31am local time. It had been scheduled to continue to Istanbul.

Parts of the plane were strewn across a radius of 1km, with many houses damaged or demolished.

On Monday evening, officials were hunting for the aircraft’s “black box” flight data and voice recorders.

A Kyrgyz news agency reported that a local resident had written on Facebook that the plane’s impact had “blown away” many structures.

“Many homes simply burned,” she wrote. “People were sleeping and didn’t have any idea.”

The plane’s manufacturer Boeing said it was standing by to help investigators, and extended “its deepest condolences to the families of those who perished.”

In a statement on Monday, ACT Airlines said the cause of the accident was “unknown at this time” and that they would provide further details as they became available.