YANGON, Myanmar >> Survivors of a Christmas Day crash-landing of an airliner in Myanmar told terrifying tales of escape Wednesday as carrier Air Bagan said it had found the plane’s black box and was investigating the accident that killed two people.
Details of the crash remain unclear, though the airline and officials have blamed heavy fog for the aircraft’s crash into a rice paddy field where it burst into flames. Two died and 11 were injured, including four foreigners.
The aging Fokker 100 jet was carrying 71 people, including 48 foreigners, from the city of Yangon via Mandalay to Heho airport, which is the gateway to the popular tourist destination Inle Lake.
“We felt the first bump, then a few big bumps and then (started) sliding very fast,” said 31-year-old Australian advertising executive Anna Bartsch. Her boyfriend, Stuart Benson, described the landing like “a roller coaster” ride.
The plane came to a stop and they felt relief — and then panic.
“In my window I saw the flames, and it was hot and we knew straight away we didn’t have much time to get out,” Bartsch said during an interview at a Yangon hotel where the airline lodged passengers after evacuating them from the scene.
Passengers rushed up the aisle to the front door, which was initially stuck shut, she said.
“We didn’t know then that the wings had come off,” Bartsch said.
The door was quickly forced open and passengers raced from the plane, some in shock and some suffering smoke inhalation, she said. Once on safe ground, Bartsch said she saw the pilot and co-pilot with bloodied faces and other people with serious burns.
“It’s amazing that the injuries were not more serious,” she said. “It could have been much worse.”
Air Bagan said late Tuesday that the plane’s black box will be sent to Singapore to study the cause of the accident.
Air Bagan has said “the plane hit electrical cables about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from Heho airport as it descended and landed in rice fields.”
The Information Ministry said the pilot mistook a road near the airport for the runway before stopping in a nearby rice paddy. It was unclear if the plane made its crash landing on the road or the rice field.
All fatalities were Myanmar citizens, including a man riding a motorcycle where the plane came down and a tour guide aboard the plane. There were earlier reports of an 11-year-old child also among the dead.
The accident has raised concerns about the safety standards of Myanmar’s overburdened airlines as foreign visitors have flocked to the country which is emerging from a half-century of military rule.
Air Bagan is one of a half dozen private airlines that fly domestic routes in Myanmar. It is a unit of Htoo Trading Company, which is owned by business tycoon Tay Za.