A Turkish airliner skidded off a runway and broke apart as it tried to land in bad weather in Istanbul Wednesday, killing three people and injuring dozens more. Passengers had to scramble through the split fuselage to escape.

The aircraft operated by low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines was arriving at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport from the western Turkish city of Izmir with 177 passengers and crew members on board when it had what the Transportation Ministry described as a "rough landing."

Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said the plane failed to "hold onto the runway" and skidded some 50-60 metres before it crashed into a ditch from a height of about 30 metres.

"We are deeply saddened ... (But) we are very happy that we escaped a greater accident," Yerlikaya said, adding that the plane could have burst into flames.

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Three people have died and 157 injured people were taken to multiple hospitals. Three of the injured required surgery and two others were in intensive care, but none of their lives were thought to be in danger, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

The airport was shut down after the incident, which occurred at around 6.30pm local time (1530 GMT) and flights were diverted to Istanbul's main airport.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said a chief prosecutor's office had launched an investigation into the accident.

Video obtained by the Associated Press showed the wreckage of the plane in a field adjacent to the end of the runway. The video shows heavy rain and strong winds at the time, with smoke coming from one of the engines as passengers climb out of the fuselage onto the wings of the plane and away from the crash site.

The aircraft skidded off the runway while trying to land in bad weather. Photo / AP
The aircraft skidded off the runway while trying to land in bad weather. Photo / AP

Eyewitness Hasan Eraydin, who shot the video, said he had been driving home from work when he heard a rumble.

"We were about 30m away … we tried to get to the scene to help, but there was some sort of a canal in between and it was impossible. We thought 'God willing, no one has died'."

Dozens of rescue crew members swarmed around the flood-lit fuselage, including around the cockpit, which had flipped over. The plane was a Boeing 737 that was 11 years old, according to the flight tracking website Flightradar24.

"We are aware of the media reports and we are gathering more information," Peter Pedraza, a Boeing spokesman, said.

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NTV television said the injured included the plane's two pilots, who it said were in serious condition. NTV broadcast a recording of the communications between the pilots and air traffic control in which the pilots are told that previous flights had reported strong tail winds.

"According to the information we have, there was a rough landing. The accident occurred after (the plane) could not decelerate and rammed into a field from the end of the runway," state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Mehmet Cahit Turan as saying.

Pegasus is a privately-owned, low-cost carrier based in Istanbul that flies 97 routes, mostly within Turkey and to destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. It is majority owned by Turkish billionaire Sevket Sabanci and his family, who have big investments in the country in areas as varied as real estate, clothing, health clubs and packaging materials.

Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport was closed following the failed landing, which saw the plane skid for 60m before crashing into a ditch. Photo / AP
Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport was closed following the failed landing, which saw the plane skid for 60m before crashing into a ditch. Photo / AP

The accident comes a month after a Pegasus plane with 164 people on board skidded off the runway at the same airport in Istanbul. There were no deaths or injuries in that incident on January 7.

In January 2018, another Boeing 737 in the Pegasus fleet slid off a runway at northeastern Turkey's Trabzon Airport and down a dirt embankment. The plane came to rest in the dirt above the Black Sea with its nose pointed toward the water. None of the 168 passengers and crew members were injured.

Planes are designed to absorb impact forces in the bottom of the fuselage to improve the chances that passengers in the cabin above will survive.

In 2013, the tail of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 broke off after the jet hit a seawall during approach to San Francisco International Airport. Three people died, 49 were seriously injured and scores more suffered minor injuries, according to the U.S. accident report.

That same year, a Lion Air Boeing 737 split in two after landing in shallow water short of the runway in Bali, Indonesia. All 101 passengers and seven crew members survived.

- AP