Bangkok--Thai Air Plane Bursts Into Flames on Runway; One Dead, AFP Says : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Thai Air Plane Bursts Into Flames on Runway; One Dead, AFP Says By Claire Shoesmith

Bangkok, March 3 (Bloomberg) -- A Thai Airways International Pcl plane burst into flames on the runway at Bangkok's airport, killing one person and injuring four others, Agence France-Presse reported, citing police and airport officials.

The flight, which hadn't begun boarding, was to fly to the northern city of Chiang Mai and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was among the 149 passengers scheduled to be on board, AFP said. An explosion was heard before the fire began, airport authorities said.

The body of a Thai Airways crew member was pulled from the wreckage of the Boeing 737-400, said Amnuay Ditkavee, Bangkok's deputy police commissioner, AFP reported.

Another four people -- including the captain, a flight attendant and a baggage handler -- were rushed to a nearby hospital, airport officials told the news agency.

-- Carl Jenkins (, March 03, 2001



Narrow escape for Thai PM as plane explodes on runway WebPosted Sat Mar 3 10:18:55 2001

BANGKOK - The prime minister of Thailand was just minutes from boarding a plane in Bangkok on Saturday when it exploded and burst into flames on the runway.

Local television footage showed pictures of the gutted Boeing 737 still smoking on the tarmac, its charred steel frame broken in the middle and its nose collapsed on the ground. Part of the plane's roof had collapsed and only the tail remained intact.

One crew member died and seven others were injured in the fire, which engulfed the plane as it sat on the runway not far from the airport's domestic terminal.

Thailand's newly elected prime minister Thaksin Shimawatra was on his way to the terminal for the flight, which was due to leave 35 minutes after the fire started.

"Personally, I am not alarmed by the situation," Thaksin told reporters. "But I am surprised it happened to a plane that was ready to take off."

"I hope it was an accident but for now we will set up an investigation," said Thaksin. "The security has been increased, and I cannot go anywhere I want."

Asked whether a bomb could have caused the explosion, Thaksin told reporters not to jump to conclusions.

"We should not panic as we still don't know what happened. It could have been sparked by the engine or something else," Thaksin said.

The president of Thai Airways, Pisis Kulsalasaiwanond, said all luggage had been loaded onto the plane. He said the X-ray machine at the domestic terminal had been broken earlier Tuesday, but was fixed before the bags were loaded.

The plane's captain confirmed reports that workers had just finished refuelling the plane before the explosion. But he said after the fire, the fuel tanks in the plane's wings were still intact, suggesting burning fuel was not the cause of the explosion.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 03, 2001.

Nando Times

Jet explodes shortly before Thai president to board

By UAMDAO NOIKORN, Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand (March 3, 2001 9:24 a.m. EST - An explosion and fire gutted a jetliner minutes before Thailand's prime minister was to board on Saturday, killing a crew member. Seven others were injured.

Officials said a bombing could not be ruled out.

The blast came 35 minutes before the plane was to depart, when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was on his way to the domestic terminal of Bangkok International Airport in a motorcade.

"I hope it was an accident but for now we will set up an investigation," said Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon who took office last month after his Thai Rak Thai Party easily won a Jan. 6 election. "The security has been increased and I cannot go anywhere I want."

No passengers or pilots were aboard Thai Airways Flight TG1144 to the northern resort town of Chiang Mai. Besides Thaksin, the plane was scheduled to carry 148 passengers on the 70-minute flight.

Seven crew and ground staff were injured and the body of a cabin crew member was found inside the charred wreckage of the Boeing 737-400, said Lt. Gen. Jongrak Juthanont, the deputy national police chief.

Thai Airways President Pisit Kulsalasaiwanond said there was "a loud noise that sounded like an explosion" before the fire started.

"At this moment we will investigate all factors. We do not rule out any possible cause, but we don't want to speculate," he said.

All bags had been loaded on the plane after being X-rayed, he said. The X-ray machine at the domestic terminal had been out of operation early Saturday, but it was fixed before the luggage was loaded, Pisit said.

The explosion triggered a massive fire that took about an hour to control. The aircraft was destroyed, and its charred shell broke in the middle with the nose collapsing on the ground. Only its tail remained intact.

The plane's captain, Chusak Pachaiwuth, said it was impossible for the plane to explode from an internal malfunction if the engines had not started.

He said workers had just finished refueling the plane when the blast hit. The fuel tanks, in the plane's wings, were intact, he said, indicating that burning fuel was not the cause of the explosion.

Thaksin's bodyguards, who were at the terminal, heard "a big bang" and saw the plane go up in flames, Thaksin spokesman Suranan Vejjajiva said.

Thaksin, who had a meeting Sunday in Chiang Mai, flew on a military plane instead.

Aviation authorities cut power at the terminal and diverted all incoming flights to an airport in nearby Chonburi province. Normal operations resumed three hours later. International flights were not affected.

It was the worst tragedy for the national airlines since the Dec. 11, 1998 crash of an Airbus A310-200 that killed 101 people. The domestic flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani, 330 miles south, went down in a swamp while trying to land.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 03, 2001.


Pick-a-theory muddles Thai plane probe

In this story:

Twists and turns

Slow probe

Popularity concerns

By John Raedler CNN Bangkok Bureau Chief

BANGKOK (CNN) -- The investigation into what caused a Thai Airways passenger jet to explode at Bangkok airport on March 3 has taken more twists than Chubby Checker.

A flight attendant was killed and seven other workers were injured when the Boeing 737-400 blew up and burned at a departure gate just 35 minutes before its scheduled take off.

The incident happened shortly before the Thai Prime Minister and 148 other passengers were due to board the plane to fly to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Thai officials, including Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have publicly speculated on a wide range of possible causes -- from an assassination attempt by drug lords to a malfunction in the plane's air conditioning system.

Indeed, the officials' speculation -- often changing within hours -- has zigged and zagged so much it is starting to border on farce.

Twists and turns

In the initial hours after the explosion, the Thai news media were rampant with speculation about Myanmar drug lords being responsible for the "attack."

The morning after the explosion Prime Minister Thaksin was quoted as saying: "The incident was caused by an explosive device and was not an accident."

That afternoon he told CNN: "I cannot say definitely what is the cause of the problem . . . We don't have the cause of the explosion yet."

And in between these contradictory statements, the Prime Minister's "security adviser" was quoted as speculating that "the bomb" was a "white phosphorus type."

The next day Mr. Thaksin said the cause was "definitely an explosive . . . we have found traces of several kinds of chemicals."

At the same time the Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh pointed to "international terrorists" as possible culprits.

The following day Thailand's police chief Pornsak Duronghawibul told a press conference investigators had found components of the explosive "C-4" at the scene and concluded a "C-4 bomb" was responsible.

"C-4" is used mainly by military forces for demolition purposes.

Around this time speculation of an "inside job" started to mount. This theory held that disputes within Thai Airways or between Thai Airways and the Thai Airport Authority were behind the bombing.

Police said they had narrowed their suspect list to 10 and news reports said they and were questioning "intensively" two cargo loaders at Bangkok airport. Arrests appeared imminent.

Slow probe

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister -- displeased with the slowness of the investigation -- set up a panel to solve the case by March 15.

Some of the investigators deemed the deadline unnecessary, unrealistic and unwise. They said it risked thoroughness for the sake of speed.

Mr. Thaksin, a former high-ranking officer in the Royal Thai Police, has now backed off the March 15 deadline.

Along the way, the PM suggested without elaboration that he knew who was behind the bombing, saying at one stage that while he thought the "bomb planters" would be caught the "mastermind" may not.

Then, in the mother of all twists, Mr. Thaksin said at the weekend that investigators from Boeing had found a fault in the plane's air conditioning system -- and the explosion might have been an accident after all.

Not so, responded Boeing. Deputy PM Chavalit, who is overseeing the investigation for the government, was almost blunt in rebutting the PM: "Everyone wants to see this as an accident. But we can't -- because we cannot answer why RDX [an ingredient in C-4] was spread all over the aircraft. The C-4 didn't get there by itself. We cannot say that it wasn't sabotage."

Popularity concerns

The issue raises a fundamental question that is puzzling some observers here: Why is the Prime Minister engaging in this public commentary on the investigation -- exposing his credibility to the ebb and flow of often untested and contradictory theories and speculation?

CNN put this question to Deputy PM Chavalit, a former Prime Minister himself and something of a political father figure to Mr. Thaksin.

"He is very concerned about the people's thinking," Chavalit told this reporter. "He's so afraid that people will not understand [what is going on and that this will] cause people unhappiness. So that's why he tries to give an answer to all the questions our media people ask him."

And now for the latest speculation: A local news report says US experts involved in the investigation have warned Thai investigators to double check the explosive traces found in the plane's ruins.

The report says the Americans warn that foam used to extinguish the fire could produce substances with properties similar to explosive traces.

Another day, another theory . . .

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 13, 2001.

Thursday, March 22 7:03 PM SGT

US,Thai Investigators Not Sure Bomb Destroyed PM's Plane BANGKOK (AP)--Thai and U.S. investigators are not sure whether the explosion that destroyed the prime minister' plane earlier this month was an accident or was caused by a bomb as claimed earlier, the defense minister said Thursday. Nearly three weeks of investigations by Thai authorities, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Boeing company have not brought them any closer to truth, Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told reporters.

Thai police have interrogated 170 people so far but have not identified any suspects, Chavalit said.

"Till now both officials, the Thai side and the American side, cannot be sure what is the real cause of the explosion," Chavalit said after meeting with NTSB investigator Robert Swain.

But "the police are still pursuing their investigation on the bomb theory," he said.

Chavalit's announcement cast doubts on the investigation by Thai authorities who had asserted with confidence that the March 3 explosion of the Thai Airways Boeing 737-400 was caused by a bomb.

They cited traces of a plastic explosive found in the wreckage. Most of the debris is now in the United States being tested by the FBI.

The parked plane blew up at Bangkok Airport 35 minutes before its departure time on a regular domestic flight to Chiang Mai town. Among the 149 passengers booked on the flight were Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his son. None of them had boarded the plane.

One airline steward who was preparing for the flight was killed and seven other workers were injured.

Chavalit said investigators have not yet found an ignition device that would prove the bomb theory.

Swain "has tried his best to find the ignition equipment ... But he said he will keep looking," Chavalit said.

He said the cockpit voice recorder had captured a noise created by "some kind of electrical signal" before the explosion, which lasted 0.3 second.

"There was only one explosion, not two as Thai police said before," Chavalit said.

A computer mapping of the electrical pulse showed it was similar to an electrical pulse recorded before the explosion of a Philippine Airline Boeing 737-300 on May 11 1990. The blast, which occurred as the plane was taxing killing eight passengers, was found to be accidental.

Chavalit refused to say if this indicated the Thai Airways plane explosion also could have been an accident.

"At present the NTSB official (Swain) cannot make a decision whether it is a bomb or an accident. We have to investigate it more," he said.

He said Swain told him the result will be known in six to nine months and the final report will be released in two years.

The investigation has been dogged by a series of contradictory reports regarding the cause of the explosion and the motive.

Officials first speculated it was an assassination attempt against Thaksin, then said it could be a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. Later it was described as a bomb planted by disgruntled airline or airport employees. Involvement of drug lords has also been suggested. s=asiafinance/news/010322/asian_markets/dowjones/US_Thai_Investigators _Not_Sure_Bomb_Destroyed_PM_s_Plane.html

-- Doris (, March 22, 2001.

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