For hours after the crash, Turkish authorities said it had caused no fatalities, even though the state of the wreckage showed that the plane had sustained catastrophic damage, after careening off the runway and then falling dozens of feet off an incline at the airport. The plane’s fuselage was left in three pieces, with the nose sheered almost completely off and the tail section partially separated.
Airline and government officials said 180 people aboard were taken to hospitals. By Thursday evening, 88 people were still being treated, including 14 who were in intensive care, Ali Yerlikaya, the governor of Istanbul province, wrote on Twitter.
The plane, a Boeing 737-800, was 11 years old and acquired by Pegasus in 2016 from Air Berlin, according to Flightradar 24, a flight tracking service.
The accident marked the third time in two years a Pegasus flight had veered off runways in Turkey. The last incident was on Jan. 7, when another Pegasus jet skidded off the runway at Sabiha Gokcen, shortly after arriving from the United Arab Emirates, also in windy conditions. And in January 2018, another Pegasus 737 swerved off the runway in the city of Trabzon and slid down a cliff overlooking the Black Sea. Those two incidents did not result in injuries.
Sabiha Gokcen International was closed to air traffic after Wednesday’s accident, and dozens of flights were rerouted to the city’s other airport, Istanbul Airport. Prosecutors in the city announced they had launched an investigation into the crash and had requested blood samples from the two pilots, according to the daily Sabah newspaper.
The general manager of Pegasus, Mehmet Tevfik Nane, said during a brief news conference Thursday in Istanbul that “events like these occur not only for a reason, but due to many factors coming together.” He declined to take questions from the media, saying, “I have shared all the information I have on my hands.”
Tugba Atay, a passenger on the stricken flight, said in an interview with the state-run TRT network from her hospital bed that there had been heavy turbulence as the plane approached the airport. After it landed, instead of slowing down, the aircraft accelerated.
“And then the plane was off the runway,” said Atay, who said she was a former flight attendant.
Baggage compartments flew open and the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling. People hit their heads, and “someone was yelling about their arm.” When she had gathered herself, she noticed the front of the plane had broken off and that the seat next to her had collapsed. Atay told other passengers she that she hurt her back, and they helped her off the plane.
Some injured passengers were placed on airport buses, she said. It took between 30 and 45 minutes for paramedics to reach the passengers on her bus, and at least an hour and a half for injured passengers to be transferred to ambulances, she said.
“We don’t really know why we waited so long,” she said.