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Experts Begin Probe into Malaysian Plane Crash

September 16, 1995

TAWAU, Malaysia (AP) _ Aviation experts examined the wreckage of a Malaysian airliner today, searching for clues about what caused it to crash into a shantytown, killing 34 people on board.

Nineteen others on the plane survived Friday’s crash of the Malaysian Airline System plane in the seaside town of Tawau, 725 miles east of Kuala Lumpur, the capital.

One passenger with chest injuries was in critical condition, Bernama news agency said.

Bernama said an 80-year-old woman in the shantytown died, apparently from shock when the Fokker F-50 bounced off the runway, landed on the squatter homes outside the airport perimeter and exploded.

About 45 tin-roofed houses, inhabited by Malaysians and illegal Indonesian and Filipino immigrants, were gutted. Some 420 people were homeless and 10 were injured, two of them seriously, Bernama said.

Officials said no one in the squatter colony was killed in the crash and explosion. The Malay Mail newspaper, however, said many residents may still be buried under the wreckage, and that families may be refusing to talk about missing kin because of their illegal status.

Police cordoned off the area today and investigators from the Department of Civil Aviation, Malaysian Airlines, the fire department and airport authorities began preliminary investigations.

Forensic experts were flying to Tawau to identify victims charred beyond recognition.

News reports said the plane touched down at least once before it bounced off the runway, clipped the 8-foot-high airport fencing, veered right and bulldozed through the shantytown.

The plane was carrying 49 passengers, two pilots and two flight attendants on a domestic one-hour flight to Tawau from the Malaysian resort town of Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. Both pilots died. The attendants survived.

The plane’s flight data recorder, or ``black box,′ was being sent to Britain for analysis to try to determine what went wrong.

Officials have refused to speculate if pilot error was to blame. The aircraft was only five years old, had been serviced on Wednesday, and a mandatory check had revealed no faults, the airline said.

The weather and visibility were good Friday, and the turboprop Fokker has a reputation of being able to land even with both engines dead.

The Star newspaper said the Dutch-made plane touched down far ahead of where it should have.

``As we were touching down, I felt the left side of the plane hit the ground. I heard a small explosion,″ the Star quoted flight attendant Kamarul Bahrain as saying.

``The plane went up again and there was a louder explosion. We hit the ground again,″ he said.

Friday’s accident was only the second fatal crash of a Malaysian Airlines System plane since the company was formed in 1963.

In December 1977 a hijacked Boeing 737 blew up in midair, killing all 93 passengers, seven crew members and an unknown number of unidentified hijackers.

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