A cargo plane attempting to land in thick fog crashed Monday into a village near Kyrgyzstan's main airport and killed at least 37 people, with authorities blaming "pilot error".
A massive section of the aircraft's tail billowed smoke as rescuers searched for victims among the wreckage in the village of Dacha-Suu, home to the majority of the victims.
"According to preliminary information, the plane crashed due to a pilot error," Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziev said at a briefing broadcast on state television.
A minimum of 37 people, including the plane's four pilots, were killed and the toll may rise, said a spokesman for the emergency services, Muhammed Svarov.
The plane, operated by a Turkish cargo airline, was attempting a landing at the Manas airport in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in thick fog.
Crushed cars, shattered homes and huge chunks of burnt debris littered the village, which was hit by the plane at around 7:30 am (0130 GMT), as many residents were still at home in bed.
"Our grandson said something was burning," Tajikan, a Dacha Suu resident who identified herself only by her first name, told AFP.
"We heard a roar and (what felt) like an earthquake. Many people were sleeping, everything around was burning. One of the parts of the aircraft fell on our neighbour's house. She and her whole family died," the pensioner said.
Zumriyat Rezakhanova, another resident of Dacha Suu, said the plane fell "right on the homes" where residents were sleeping.
"My sister's home is badly damaged. Luckily she and her family survived," Rezakhanova told AFP.
- 'Deeply saddened' -
The flight was travelling from Hong Kong to Istanbul via Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.
One of the plane's black boxes was recovered from the crash site, the government said a statement without specifying how long it would take to decipher it.
International aviation experts and representatives of the company who flew the plane, ACT Airlines, will arrive at the crash site Tuesday, Abulgaziev said at a late briefing, adding that search operation will resume in the morning in areas where the largest pieces of the plane fell.
The Turkish cargo airline, said in a statement that its Boeing 747-400 was involved in the crash.
ACT Airlines said it was "deeply saddened" by the crash and noted that "the cause of the accident is unknown."
Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, meanwhile extended its "deepest condolences" over the crash and offered to assist Kyrgyz authorities with the investigation.
Elmira Sheripova, a spokeswoman for the emergency services ministry, told AFP that 17 houses had been "completely destroyed" by the plane.
The country's Manas airport has since reopened despite air authorities initially saying that the hub would remain shut until the evening.
Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov was heading a specially-appointed government commission to probe the crash and the country's state prosecutor also opened an investigation.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev cancelled his visit to China to return to Bishkek, according to Kyrgyz media.
Authorities said the country will observe a day of mourning on Tuesday.
At least 37 killed after Turkish cargo plane crashes near Kyrgyzstan airport
A Turkish cargo plane crashed Monday in a residential area just outside the main airport in Kyrgyzstan, destroying half of a village and killing at least 37 people in the plane and on the ground, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.
The Boeing 747 crashed at 7:40 a.m. local time while approaching Manas airport, south of the capital, Bishkek, in this Central Asian nation.
Footage from the scene showed the plane's nose stuck inside a brick house and large chunks of debris scattered around. A dozen body bags were laid out in the yard of one home. A car parked nearby was mangled in the crash, and a refrigerator lay open.
The bodies of 15 victims, including five children, all of them Kyrgyz citizens, had been identified by Monday evening, the Kyrgyz government said on its website.
Another 15 people, including six children, were hospitalized in the disaster, according to the health ministry.
Kyrgyz Emergency Situations Minister Kubatbek Boronov said 23 out of the 43 houses in the village had been destroyed. Several dozen homes were near the fence surrounding the runway.
The plane, which had departed from Hong Kong, belonged to the Istanbul-based cargo company ACT Airlines, which said the dead included the plane's four Turkish crew members: two pilots, a freight expert and a flight technician.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. Emergency Situations Minister Boronov told reporters that it was foggy at Manas when the plane came down but weather conditions were not critical.
One of the plane's two flight recorders was recovered at the scene, according to the Kyrgyz prime minister's office.
"I woke up because of a bright red light outside," resident Baktygul Kurbatova, who was slightly injured, told local television. "I couldn't understand what was happening. It turns out the ceiling and the walls were crashing on us. I was so scared but I managed to cover my son's face with my hands so debris would not fall on him."
The Manas airport has been considerably expanded since the United States began to operate a military installation there, using it primarily for its military operations in Afghanistan. The U.S. handed the base over to the Kyrgyz military in 2014.
ACT Airlines said on Monday that the crash wasn't the result of "technical reasons or factors linked to the freight" on the plane. It did not specify the plane's cargo.
It said the plane's records book had no record of any technical faults and said that the plane had not encountered any mishaps during its journey or as it proceeded to land at Bishkek.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev on Monday to express his condolences and convey his sadness at the loss of lives in the disaster.
Turkey's transportation ministry also sent two experts from its accident investigation board to Bishkek to assist Kyrgyz authorities.
Turkish Cargo Plane Crashes Into Village in Kyrgyzstan, Killing Dozens
A Turkish cargo plane approaching the airport in Kyrgyzstan’s capital crashed early Monday, killing at least 37 people, most of them on the ground, according to the Kyrgyz government.
The Boeing 747, with a crew of four, was owned by ACT Airlines, and it was on its way to Istanbul from Hong Kong with a stopover in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, according to airport officials in the Central Asian city.
The plane was approaching Manas International Airport in Bishkek when it crashed into a village adjoining the airport. Kyrgyz officials said that 23 of the village’s 43 houses were destroyed, and some buildings burst into flames. There was fog at the time, but it was not clear if the weather played a role in the crash.
The Kyrgyz Emergencies Ministry said that at least 12 people had been taken to the hospital.
An image on the website of the television station owned by Kyrgyzstan’s government showed a large section of the nose of the aircraft, including the cockpit windows, on the ground after the plane apparently crashed through a building. Wreckage was strewed across a wide area.
A video of the crash scene showed emergency workers in a snow-covered neighborhood, with pieces of the plane interspersed among houses and wreckage in flames. Tents were set up to help shelter displaced residents from temperatures of about 13 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 11 Celsius).
Kyrgyz officials said they would create a government commission to investigate why the plane came down.
The plane, built in 2003, was owned by ACT Airlines, a Turkish company that is 49 percent owned by the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which has aviation, tourism and logistics units. ACT operates under the name MyCargo Airlines.
The airline said on Monday that the crash was not the result of “technical reasons or loading related factors” on the plane. The airline said that the aircraft’s crew of four — two pilots, a freight specialist and a flight technician — were all killed in the crash.
The Manas airport was the site of a United States military base that was used mainly to support operations in Afghanistan until 2014, when the base was handed over to the Kyrgyz military.