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Malaysian Airliner with 53 on Board Crashes into Shantytown

September 15, 1995

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ A Malaysian Airline aircraft crashed on landing today and plowed through a shantytown near the runway. At least 37 of the 53 people on board were killed and several on the ground were crushed by the steamrolling wreckage of the burning plane, police said.

At least eight people survived the crash in Tawau, said hospital officials in the town, located 725 miles east of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on the island of Borneo.

Malaysian Airline chairman Tajudin Ramli said the Fokker-50 aircraft overshot the runway while landing and exploded in the shantytown.

He said the 5-year-old plane had been serviced on Wednesday and a mandatory check revealed no technical problems. The weather and visibility were good today.

``We are not aware that any distress signal was sent out,″ Ramli told reporters. He refused to speculate if the crash was caused by pilot error. He also refused to confirm the death toll.

One of the survivors, Tawau prison superintendent Jews Sinau, described how the ``plane suddenly dived and crashed into houses outside the perimeter of the airport.″

He told the national news agency, Bernama, that he had been sitting near the emergency hatch, and opened it to escape with five others. The right side of the aircraft was on fire at the time, Sinau said.

Another survivor was quoted as saying he left behind crying passengers as he fled.

Flight MH-2133 was carrying 49 passengers, including a baby, and two pilots and two flight attendants. The carrier had earlier given a total figure of 49 on board.

Airline officials said there did not appear to be any foreigners on board because all the names on the passenger list sounded Malaysian. The four crew also were Malaysians.

The Dutch-made plane crashed at the end of its one-hour flight to Tawau from the resort town of Kota Kinabalu.

Residents contacted in Tawau, a seaside town of about 200,000 people, said they heard a loud boom at the time of the crash and saw smoke billowing from the direction of the airport.

The plane came down on the runway and punched through a row of 20 houses at the edge of the runway, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bernama said at least 10 people on the ground were injured when their homes caught fire.

Residents said the damaged houses were unauthorized shanties built by illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia who have streamed into the area to work in construction, timber camps and cocoa and oil plantations.

The worst previous disaster for Malaysian Airlines occurred in December 1977 when a plane seized by unidentified hijackers blew up in midair. All 93 passengers and seven crew members died on that flight.

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

Update hourly