Tai­wanese plane with 53 pas­sen­gers crashes in Taipei river

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

From the start of the flight in Tai­wan’s cap­i­tal, sur­vivor Huang Jin-sun sus­pected trou­ble

“There was some sound next to me. It did not feel right shortly af­ter take-off. The en­gine did not feel right,” the 72-year-old man told ETTV tele­vi­sion on Thurs­day from his hos­pi­tal bed.

Huang was one of 15 peo­ple who sur­vived when the Tran­sAsia Air­ways tur­bo­prop car­ry­ing 58 peo­ple crashed on Wed­nes­day into a river min­utes af­ter tak­ing off in Taipei. At least 32 peo­ple died and 11 are miss­ing.

Mo­ments be­fore the plane banked sharply and crashed, one of its pi­lots told the con­trol tower, “May­day, May­day, en­gine flame­out,” ac­cord­ing to an avi­a­tion of­fi­cial who asked not to be iden­ti­fied.

“En­gine flame­out” refers to flames be­ing ex­tin­guished in the com­bus­tion cham­ber of the en­gine so that it shuts down and no longer drives the pro­pel­ler. Causes could in­clude a lack of fuel or be­ing struck by vol­canic ash, a bird or some other ob­ject. “May­day” is an in­ter­na­tional dis­tress call.

The air­line and the Tai­wan Civil Aero­nau­ti­cal Ad­min­is­tra­tion have de­clined to spec­u­late on the cause of the crash, the lat­est in a se­ries of dis­as­ters be­falling Asian air­lines.

The ATR 72-600 plane, less than a year old, had one of its en­gines re­placed by Pratt & Whit­ney Canada last April be­fore it went into ser­vice be­cause of a glitch with the orig­i­nal en­gine, the air­line said.

The plane’s black boxes were re­cov­ered overnight. Video images of Flight 235’s fi­nal mo­ments in the air cap­tured on car dash­board cam­eras ap­pear to show the left en­gine’s pro­pel­ler at stand­still as the air­craft turns sharply, its wings be­com­ing ver­ti­cal and clip­ping a high­way bridge be­fore plung­ing into the Keelung River in Taipei.

Huang said he helped four pas­sen­gers un­buckle their seat­belts af­ter the plane crashed and be­gan sink­ing in the wa­ter. “I saw oth­ers were drown­ing,” he said. “If I did not move quickly enough to help them, soon they would be dead.”

Also among the sur­vivors was a fam­ily of three, in­clud­ing a 2-year-old boy whose heart stopped beat­ing af­ter three min­utes un­der wa­ter. He re­cov­ered af­ter re­ceiv­ing CPR, his un­cle Lin Ming-yi told re­porters.

The pi­lots’ ac­tions in the flight’s fi­nal mo­ments have led to spec­u­la­tion that they at­tempted to avoid high-rise build­ings by fol­low­ing the line of the river and then banked sharply in an at­tempt to bring it down in the wa­ter rather than crash on land.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je praised pi­lot Liao Chien-tsung as a hero for hav­ing avoided crash­ing into build­ings or ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture.

“We re­ally have to thank that pi­lot,” Ko said. “He re­ally tried his hard­est.”

Divers are search­ing the river for the re­main­ing 11 peo­ple on board, in­clud­ing the two pi­lots.

About a dozen rel­a­tives of Tai­wanese vic­tims on the flight per­formed tra­di­tional mourn­ing rit­u­als on the river­bank on Thurs­day. Ac­com­pa­nied by Bud­dhist monks ring­ing brass bells, they bowed to­ward the river and held aloft cloth in­scrip­tions tied to pieces of bamboo meant to guide the spir­its of the dead to rest. Also on Thurs­day, rel­a­tives of some of the 31 pas­sen­gers from main­land China reached Taipei on a char­ter flight.

Tai­wan Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou vis­ited two Taipei hos­pi­tals on Thurs­day to check on the in­jured and stopped by a morgue to com­fort rel­a­tives, his of­fice said.

The ATR 72-600 is the most mod­ern ver­sion of the plane man­u­fac­tured by ATR, a joint ven­ture be­tween Euro­pean air­craft gi­ant Air­bus and Ital­ian aerospace com­pany Ale­nia Aer­ma­c­chi. About 1,200 of the planes are cur­rently in use world­wide.

Tran­sAsia Air­ways is Tai­wan’s third big­gest air­line by fleet size af­ter China Air­lines and Eva Air. The pi­lot had 4,900 hours of fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, said Lin Chih­ming of the Civil Aero­nau­tics Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A team from ATR was be­ing sent to Tai­wan to help in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Over 50 peo­ple were on plane that crashed in Taipei river, killing 31, re­ports said.

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