Turkish jet skids off runway, breaks into pieces; 3 dead, at least 179 injured

Three people are dead and at least 179 injured after a plane landing in Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Turkey on Wednesday skidded off the runway, crashing into a field and breaking into pieces.

Television footage showed serious damage to the plane, with the fuselage appearing to be broken into three pieces. Passengers were evacuated from the cracks in the plane's debris. The low-cost Pegasus Airlines plane was arriving at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport from the western Turkish city of Izmir when it had what the Transportation Ministry initially described as a "rough landing."

Istanbul Gov. Ali Yerlikaya said the plane landed in bad weather, failed to "hold onto the runway," and skidded some 55-65 yards before crashing into a ditch from a height of some 30 yards. He said paramedics rushed passengers to 18 different hospitals in total.

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"We are deeply saddened... (But) we are very happy that we escaped a greater accident," he said, adding that the plane could have burst into flames.

Officials working around the crash site Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Officials working around the crash site Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

NTV television said the injured included the plane's two pilots, who were in serious condition. NTV broadcast a recording of the communications between the pilots and air traffic control in which the pilots were told that previous flights had reported strong tailwinds. The news service said the plane caught fire after skidding but said the flames had been extinguished.

The plane was an 11-year-old Boeing 737, according to the flight tracking website Flightradar24.

Rescue members working at the crash site Wednesday. (AP)

Rescue members working at the crash site Wednesday. (AP)

Pegasus is a privately-owned, low-cost carrier based in Istanbul flying 97 routes, mostly within Turkey and to destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is majority-owned by Turkish billionaire Sevket Sabanci and his family, who have made big investments in the country in areas as varied as real estate, clothing, health clubs and packaging materials.

Rescuers and firefighters at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport. (DHA via AP)

Rescuers and firefighters at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport. (DHA via AP)

Officials shut down the airport and diverted flights to Istanbul's main airport, Yerlikaya said. The crash unfolded a month after another Pegasus plane with 164 people on board skidded off the runway in Istanbul at the same airport. There were no deaths or injuries in that incident on Jan. 7.

Rescue members working after the plane skidded off the runway in Istanbul. (AP)

Rescue members working after the plane skidded off the runway in Istanbul. (AP)

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said a chief prosecutor's office had launched an investigation into the accident.

It is rare for a fuselage to split open while pieces remain largely intact, The Associated Press reported. Planes have been designed to absorb impact forces at the bottom of the fuselage to improve the chances that passengers in the cabin above will survive.

In January 2018, another Boeing 737-800 in the Pegasus fleet slid off a runway at northeastern Turkey’s Trabzon Airport and down a dirt embankment. The plane came to rest in the dirt above the Black Sea with its nose pointed toward the water. None of the 168 passengers and crew members were injured.

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In 2013, the tail of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 broke off after the jet hit a seawall during the approach to San Francisco International Airport. Three people died, 49 were seriously injured and scores more suffered minor injuries, according to the U.S. accident report.

That same year, a Lion Air Boeing 737 split in two after landing in shallow water short of the runway in Bali, Indonesia. All 101 passengers and seven crew members survived.

Fox News' Bradford Betz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.