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Experts seek to identify Amsterdam crash victims

By Toby Sterling

Associated Press

AMSTERDAM — Forensic experts worked Friday to identify the dead in a Turkish Airlines crash that killed nine people in the Netherlands, while investigators at the scene mapped the exact location of each piece of mangled debris in search of the cause.

As 40 investigators swarmed the crash site Friday, the plane’s data recordings were being analyzed in Paris. Sandra Groenendal, spokeswoman for the Dutch Safety Authority, said a first assessment of what went wrong according to the black box data would likely be released by Wednesday.

Five Turks — including both pilots — and four Americans were killed when the Boeing 737-800 plunged into a farmer’s field Wednesday morning, smashing into three pieces. Two of the dead Americans were Boeing employees.

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Flight TK1951 was coming in from Istanbul with 135 passengers and crew when it crashed about one mile (1.5 kilometers) short of the runway at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

One survivor, Henk Heijloo, said the last message he heard from the captain was for flight crew to take their seats. He said it took him time to realize the landing had gone wrong.

"We were coming in at an odd angle, and I felt the pilot give the plane more gas," he said. He thought the pilot might have been trying to abort the landing, because the nose came up.

Mayor Theo Weterings of Haarlemmermeer said the relatives of the people who died had been informed, but not all the bodies had been officially identified.

"After the identification process is complete and fulfilled, then there will be the possibility for (each family) to have the corpse and bring it home," he said.

Pieter van Vollenhoven, head of the Dutch agency investigating the crash, said Thursday the Boeing 737-800 had fallen almost directly from the sky, which pointed toward the plane’s engines having stopped. He said a reason for that had not yet been established.

Groenendal confirmed his remarks but added that engine failure was still only "one of the possible scenarios" for the crash.

Investigators are exploring a wide range of possible causes, ranging from weather-related factors to insufficient fuel, loss of fuel, navigational errors, pilot fatigue or bird strikes.

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"(It) just fell straight down and then you heard the engines at full power as if it was trying to go forwards," survivor Fred Gimpel told the Dutch NOS news. "It probably went up too steeply and stalled, and then the tail hit the ground."

Several survivors of the crash returned to Istanbul on Thursday. One young man with a bandaged wrist was taken out in a wheelchair.

Student Kerem Uzel told Turkey’s NTV television that he didn’t realize anything was wrong until the plane was skidding through the muddy field.

Witnesses on the ground said the plane dropped from about 300 feet (90 meters).

Boeing Co. confirmed that two of its employees were killed and a third was injured in the crash. The condition of a fourth was unknown. It did not identify who had been killed.

Turkish Airlines chief Temel Kotil said the captain, Hasan Tahsin Arisan, was an experienced former air force pilot.

The airline also denied reports that the plane, which was built in 2002, had had technical problems in the days before the accident. The plane underwent routine maintenance Feb. 19, and it had to delay a flight Feb. 23 — the day before the crash — to replace a faulty caution light.

Weather at the airport Wednesday morning was cloudy with a slight drizzle.

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A recording of the conversations between air traffic controllers and the pilots revealed nothing unusual in the final moments before the crash. A controller read out the proper radio frequency for requesting clearance to land.

"Thank you, sir," the pilot said.

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