PHUKET, Thailand, Sep 16 (Reuters) A budget airliner crashed while trying to land in driving rain on the Thai resort island of Phuket today, bursting into flames and killing at least 66 people, officials said.
Another 19 were unaccounted for.
Flight manifests at Phuket airport suggested well over half the 123 passengers and five crew on board were foreign. An Airports of Thailand official in Bangkok said most of the foreigners were European holidaymakers.
Eight Britons, seven Thais and two Australians were among 43 known survivors, hospital workers said.
''The plane looks as though it veered off the runway into the side of a hill,'' said Leslie Quahe, a Singaporean pastor who arrived at the scene about an hour after the crash.
''I was coming down the hill and saw smoke coming from the plane. It had broken into several parts,'' Quahe told Reuters.
Officials said the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 had broken in two on impact on landing on the Andaman Sea paradise isle, which was hit by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
''The first part of the plane is dug into the ground. The tail section is stuck on the runway,'' Chaisak Chai-arkad, a senior airport official in Bangkok, told Thai radio.
TV images showed the crumpled and smoking fuselage of the One-Two-Go flight from Bangkok surrounded by fire trucks and emergency workers. Part of the plane could be seen in trees alongside the runway.
Nong Khaonual, a Thai who survived the crash with his wife, said he believed the plane had descended too quickly.
''The airplane was landing in heavy rain. It landed too fast. I have never seen anything like this. It descended very fast,'' he told Nation Television in hospital.
''Just before we touched the runway we felt the plane try to lift up, and it skidded off the runway,'' he said.
''My wife was half conscious and I dragged her out of the emergency exit. There was a man behind us and he was on fire.'' Distraught relatives gathered at the airport, on the northwest coast of what is Thailand's largest island, desperate for news of loved ones. Rain continued to lash down, hampering the efforts of rescue workers.
Foreign tour operators were also checking through passenger lists, trying to account for dead and missing.
Another survivor, an Irishman named John, described the attempts to land in atrocious conditions.
''You could tell there was a problem. The plane was flying around trying to land. It was making some noises and it was bad rain,'' John, who was travelling with a friend who also survived, told Thailand's ITV television channel.
''The plane was on fire, but I managed to get through. I might have come out on the wing,'' he said.
REUTERS SYU AS1852