While attempting to land in thick fog, a Turkish Airlines cargo plane crashed into a village near Kyrgyzstan’s main airport on Monday, killing 32 people.
The majority of the dead were from the village of Dacha-Suu where the cargo plane hit at around 7:30 am local time, a spokesman for the country’s emergency services, Muhammed Svarov, told AFP.
The total number of dead “could be bigger” Svarov said, adding that authorities had launched a huge search and rescue operation.
“Major work is underway,” Svarov said. “The damage to infrastructure in the village is significant.”
An AFP correspondent said smoke was still thick in the area at 1130 IST and small fires burned in different parts of the village, but emergency services had nearly extinguished them.
Zumriyat Rezakhanova, a 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.
At least four pilots on the flight, which was travelling from Hong Kong to Istanbul via Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, were among the dead, the emergency services ministry said, with one pilot’s body yet to be found.
Around 43 houses were damaged by the crash, according to the emergency services ministry.
“The plane crashed into the houses, it killed entire families,” one eyewitness told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“There’s nothing left of the houses, people were killed with their whole family, their children. Many people were sleeping.”
The country’s Manas airport has been closed and flights cancelled until evening at the earliest, airport authorities said.
Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov was heading a specially-appointed government commission to investigate the circumstances of the crash.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev cancelled his visit to China to return to Bishkek, according to Kyrgyz media.
(With inputs from agencies)