World – Plane crashes into river
TAIPEI –– A plane carrying mostly Chinese tourists crashed into a river in Taiwan today, killing at least 31 people.
Dramatic video footage emerged showing the TransAsia Airways plane clipping a bridge as it came down shortly after take-off from a Taipei airport.
The plane, carrying 58 people, broke up as it plunged into Taipei’s Keelung River. The fuselage was later salvaged by crane.
There were 15 survivors pulled from the wreckage, but 12 people remain missing.
Television footage showed some passengers wading clear of the sunken wreckage and a toddler being pulled out alive by rescuers.
Emergency teams cut open the plane while it was in the water but were unable to reach the passengers trapped in the front section of the fuselage.
As night fell, a crane was used to lift the wreckage on to the bank. The death toll was expected to rise as rescue teams searched the fuselage and the river for the 12 missing passengers.
“At the moment, things don’t look too optimistic,” Wu Jun-hong, a Taipei fire department official coordinating the rescue effort told reporters.
The ATR-72 turboprop plane had just taken off from Taipei Songshan Airport and was heading to the Kinmen islands, just off the coast of the south-eastern Chinese city of Xiamen.
It is the second TransAsia ATR-72 to crash in seven months, following an accident last July which killed 48 people and injured 15.
The final communication from the pilots toair traffic control was “Mayday, mayday, engine flame out”, according to a recording played on local media. The recording was not immediately verified by aviation officials.
Flight controllers lost contact with the plane at 10:55 local time (02:55 GMT).
Footage of the plane filmed from inside passing cars showed it banking sharply, hitting a taxi and clipping the bridge before crashing into the river.
“I saw a taxi, probably just metres ahead of me, being hit by one wing of the plane,” an eyewitness told local media.
“The plane was huge and really close to me. I’m still trembling.”
TV footage showed rescuers standing on the tail section of the broken wreckage trying to pull passengers out of the plane with ropes.
One Taiwanese father told reporters he managed to rescue his wife before noticing his two-year-old son was still trapped underwater. The boy was later rescued but is believed to be in critical condition.
The majority of the plane, including the front section of the fuselage and the wings, was submerged after it plunged into the Keelung River.
The BBC’s Cindy Sui in Taipei says the Chinese tourists could have been on their way home as many people come to Taiwan through Kinmen Island.
TransAsia chief Chen Xinde offered a “deep apology” in a televised news conference, but said his planes had been “under thorough scrutiny” since mid-2014.
“Both our planes and our flight safety system are following strict regulations, so we also want to know what caused the new plane model to crash; but I don’t want to speculate,” he said.
The plane’s flight data recorders, also known as black boxes, have been recovered.