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Three dead and scores injured as plane skids off Istanbul runway, breaks apart

Plane was carrying 171 people when bad weather caused brutal landing at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport
Rescuers work at crash of Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737 after it skidded off runway upon landing at Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul on 5 February (AFP)

Three people were killed and more than a hundred injured when a plane flying into Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen International Airport skidded off the runway, caught fire and broke into three sections.

Officials initially said no one was killed in Wednesday's accident, but later reported that three people had died in the crash and at least 157 of the 171 people on board were injured.

Images broadcast on Turkish television showed several people climbing through a large crack in the severed aircraft and escaping onto one of the wings at the rear.

The front of the plane including the cockpit was sliced off from the bulk of the fuselage, and another huge fissure separated the rear of the aircraft, including the tail.

The accident was apparently caused by strong winds and heavy rain lashing Istanbul as the plane tried to land.

The Boeing 737 operated by Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines had flown into Sabiha Gokcen airport from the Aegean port city of Izmir.

Fifty-two people were taken to hospital, Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya said in a statement on Twitter.

The plane was carrying 171 passengers and six crew members, the governor said. Turkish media reports said there were 12 children on board.

"Some passengers evacuated the plane by themselves, but others are stuck inside and our rescuers are working to free them," Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan was quoted as saying on CNN-Turk television.

Turkish media also said the two pilots, a Turkish national and a South Korean, were seriously hurt. 

NTV showed images of the badly damaged plane and flames inside, which were put out by firefighters.

The Istanbul public prosecutor has launched an investigation into the incident.

Airport closed

After darkness fell, television footage showed dozens of rescue workers in high-visibility jackets surrounding the plane with flashlights. 

Some sprayed water jets onto the severed body of the aircraft, while others could be seen climbing up onto the plane to comb through the cabin.

Sabiha Gokcen, which lies on the Asian side of Turkey's commercial hub, was ordered closed and flights were redirected to Istanbul's main airport.

Wednesday's accident comes a month after another Pegasus plane skidded off the runway in Istanbul at the same airport. There were no deaths or injuries in that incident on 7 January.

In January 2018, a Pegasus Boeing 737-800 slid down an embankment at Trabzon airport on the Black Sea and landed just metres from the water with its wheels stuck in thick mud. 

After four days, the plane was eventually lifted back onto the runway with engineers using cranes. All 162 passengers and six crew members were safely evacuated.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to make Istanbul a top aviation hub and in 2018 opened a new mega-airport in the city of 15 million people.