A pilot of the TransAsia Airways Flight 235 said “mayday, mayday, engine flameout” moments before the propjet banked sharply and crashed into a river, Taiwan aviation officials said Thursday as the death toll grew to 31 with 12 people still missing.
Rescue teams resumed the search for the missing, who include the two pilots.
The twin-engine propjet had 58 people aboard, many of them travelers from China, when it banked sharply on its side Wednesday, clipped a highway bridge and careened into the Keelung River. Rescuers in rubber rafts pulled 15 people alive from the wreckage during daylight.
Video images of the plane’s final moments in the air captured on car dashboard cameras do not appear to show flames as it turned sharply, with its wings going vertical and clipping a highway bridge before plunging into the Keelung River Wednesday,
Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration said 31 people were confirmed dead, 15 were rescued with injuries and 12 were still missing. It said two people on the ground were hurt. The agency released a bits of audio recordings including the pilot’s mayday call.
Taiwanese rescuers used a massive crane to hoist the French-built ATR 72-600 plane from the shallow, murky river after survivors were brought to safety on rubber rafts or scrambled to the river bank on their own. One injured person was reportedly found in a park along the river, XulNews reported.
Wu Jun-Hong, a Taipei Fire Department official coordinating the rescue, said he was not “too optimistic” that more survivors would be found.
Dramatic dashcam footage from vehicles on an elevated highway clearly shows the plane’s tragic crash. Some Taiwanese paid homage to the pilot, saying he made a desperate, deliberate choice to avoid the additional casualties likely if the plane had hit nearby apartment buildings, high schools and roads.
Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper quoted online comments thanking and praising the pilot’s actions, although aviation authorities could not immediately confirm such an effort took place. The fate of pilot Liao Jianzong, who reportedly had nearly 5,000 hours of flying experience, was not immediately known.
It was the second of TransAsia’s ATR 72 to crash in the past year. Last July, a flight crashed in stormy weather while attempting to land on the island of Penghu, killing 48 people and injuring 10. Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration on Wednesday ordered local carriers to ground the nation’s 22 ATR 72 planes pending inspections.
More than half of the 53 passengers and five crewmembers aboard Wednesday’s flight, en route to the outlying Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands, were from China. Relatives and friends on Kinmen, which is close to China, gathered at the airport to await news.
A plane from Taiwan with 58 people aboard clipped a bridge shortly after takeoff and careened into a river Wednesday. Early reports say at least 8 people are known dead and at least two dozen were rescued. (Feb. 4) AP
A Taiwanese family of three survived after Lin Mingwei rescued his wife and son from the river water that flooded the plane, said Hong Kong’s Apple Daily. Mingwei, 38, performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Lin Riyao, 2, and massaged his chest.
“I absolutely can’t lose him again,” Lin said of the boy who spent over 100 days in hospital after a premature birth. The child was in intensive care Wednesday after swallowing river water. His mother, Jiang Yuyin, suffered several bone fractures.
Kinmen County Magistrate Chen Fuhai had a lucky escape when his meetings Wednesday in Taipei forced him to delay travel to a later flight, the Apple Daily reported.
There were also tragedies. Victims included Wang Qinghuo, a mainland Chinese tour guide in his mid-20s, who was returning to his home city of Xiamen to get married Sunday, the Xiamen Daily newspaper reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed condolences, saying he was “deeply grieved.” Wednesday’s flight took off from Taipei’s downtown Sungshan Airport. TransAsia director Peter Chen said contact with the plane was lost four minutes after takeoff. He said weather conditions were not a factor and the cause of the accident had not been determined.
The plane’s black boxes were recovered. Based on a recording of communications between the cockpit and the control tower, the pilot called out “mayday” three times shortly after takeoff, the CAA said.
Thirty-one passengers were tourists from Xiamen, a nearby Chinese coastal city, who were traveling as two tour groups organized by two travel agencies. One of the mainland tour groups was originally booked on a later flight to Kinmen, but changed to the ill-fated flight Wednesday morning, reported Taiwan’s state news agency CNA.
After decades of rivalry and tense relations across the Taiwan Straits, Taipei has relaxed restrictions on mainland tourists in recent years, leading to a boom in visitors from China.