Officials work on the wreckage of a plane operated by Pegasus Airlines after it skidded Wednesday off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, in Istanbul. Picture: AP

Istanbul – As their flight abruptly descended into Istanbul and hit the ground with a rumble, a Turkish couple tensed up. They soon relaxed when they heard a routine announcement telling passengers they could use their cellphones while the airliner raced down the runway.

But seconds later, the Pegasus Airlines plane plunged off the asphalt into a ditch and smashed apart, killing three people. The impact that ripped open the plane felt like an explosion. The tail section where Seref and Rumeysa Demirtas had been seated straddled a retaining wall. They could see the ground.

“That’s when the screams started,” Rumeysa Demirtas recalled from the hospital where her husband is being treated for a broken hip and shoulder. “People started jumping from the plane from that crack near us, first onto the wall, then to the ground, and running away.”

The crash-landing at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport on Wednesday evening killed three Turkish citizens. The remaining 180 passengers and crew members on board were injured when the 11-year-old plane, which came in amid strong winds and heavy rain, skidded off the runway and split into three pieces.

Seref Demirtas told The Associated Press he was nervous when he noticed how rapidly the plane made its approach to the airport and touched down “not gradually, but very quickly.”