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Turkish passenger plane skids off runway onto seaside cliff

'We could have burned, it could have exploded, we could have fallen into the sea'
Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737 plane early Sunday after skidding off airstrip while landing at Trabzon's airport on Turkey's Black Sea coast (AFP)

A plane with 168 people aboard skidded off a runway onto a seaside cliff after landing at an airport in northern Turkey at the weekend, but no one was injured in what one passenger called a "miracle".

The Pegasus Airlines flight had taken off smoothly from the capital Ankara bound for the Black Sea city of Trabzon, where the accident occurred as the plane was landing late Saturday.

Dramatic images from CNN Turk broadcaster showed the plane lying on the cliffside, its nose just metres from the waters of the Black Sea and its wheels stuck in mud.

"There was panic, people shouting, screaming," one of the passengers, Fatma Gordu, told state-run Anadolu news agency. 

"When they told us to leave from the rear exit, everyone tried to push ahead of everyone else. It was a terrible situation."

She said they could smell fuel and feared that a fire would break out. "That is why we were scared," she said, adding that there were pregnant women and children on board.

Passenger Yuksel Gordu said it was a "miracle" they were saved. "We could have burned, it could have exploded, we could have fallen into the sea... Every time I think about it, I feel I might go crazy," she said.

In a statement, Pegasus Airlines said the plane "had a runway excursion incident" as it landed, without explaining what caused the aircraft to careen off the tarmac and end up, clinging nose first down the cliff.

The only thing that prevented the Boeing 737-800 from plummeting into the water was that its wheels got stuck in the mud, the Independent newspaper reported.

Images from the Dogan news agency show smoke emanating from the trapped plane and an engine that appears to have fallen into the water.

No injuries

According to the agency, the plane was 25 metres away from the sea.

Pegasus Airlines confirmed in a statement on Sunday there were no injuries among the 162 passengers, two pilots and four flight attendants.

The cause of the incident was unknown but an investigation is underway, the Trabzon governor's office said. A crisis centre for the incident was set up at the airport.

"The plane will be removed while all measures have been taken for other work and procedures. These will be carried out step-by-step," Trabzon Governor Yucel Yavuz told Anadolu.

He added that a small number of people asked to go to hospital but did not give further details.

Airport reopens

The Trabzon public prosecutor has launched a separate criminal probe. Dogan agency said the prosecutor would seek statements from the six crew onboard.

The airport was temporarily shut before reopening early Sunday, while an operation to remove the plane continued.

Professor Atakan Aksoy from Karadeniz Technical University's civil engineering department said that the construction of a second runway needs to be "accelerated".

"These kinds of accidents can happen due to the narrow ground surface in the northern part of the airport and because it is near a cliff," he told Dogan agency.

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