Taiwan airlines suspects bad weather caused crash
BY RALPH JENNINGS
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Stormy weather on the trailing edge of Typhoon Matmo was the likely cause of a plane crash on a Taiwanese island that killed 48 people, the airline said Thursday.
The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed while landing in the Penghu island chain in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late Wednesday. The plane was flying from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
The victims included 46 Taiwanese and two French medical students who were interns in Taiwan.
The crash came hours after Matmo passed over Taiwan. About 200 airline flights at Taiwanese airports had been canceled earlier in the day due to rain and high winds. Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau had warned of heavy rains into Wednesday evening even after Matmo moved west into China.
"According to what we can understand so far, this was due to weather, the influence of the typhoon," a TransAsia representative, Phoebe Lu, told The Associated Press. She said the carrier was waiting for Taiwanese authorities to complete an investigation to get confirmation.
The crash of Flight GE222 was Taiwan's first fatal air accident in 12 years.
On Thursday, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou called for one minute of silence in memory of the victims.
"I think that like a lot of citizens, last night I felt very sorrowful," he said in comments broadcast on television.
The airline identified the French passengers as Jeromine Deramond and Penelope Luternauer. They were medical school interns at Taipei's National Taiwan University, the university said.
The airline said one of the injured 10 survivors had gone home and five local residents who were hurt on the ground were treated and released. The crash damaged eight houses, according to Chen Tung-yi, a section chief with the Penghu disaster response center.
"All the bodies have been dug out," Chen said.
Family members were flying to Magong airport near the crash site to visit a morgue and identify victims, the airline said.
Penghu, a scenic chain of 64 islets, is a popular tourist site about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
The 14-year-old plane lost contact with the tower after saying it would make a second landing attempt, according to the head of Taiwan's air regulator, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Jean Shen.
Visibility as the plane approached was 1,600 meters (one mile), which met standards for landing, and two flights had landed shortly before GE222, the aviation agency said.
The Central News Agency, citing the county fire department, said it appeared heavy rain reduced visibility and the pilot was forced to pull up and attempt a second landing.
The plane showed no defects and had ample visibility to land safely, said a spokesman for Taiwan's air regulator, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Lee Wan-lee.
In the village of Xixi, where the plane came down, television stations showed disaster crews picking through the remains of the aircraft cabin, demolished houses and a smashed car.
The plane's captain had 22 years of flying experience and the co-pilot had 2-1/2 years, according to the Central News Agency. It said the airline was offering the family of each victim about $6,600 and paying another $27,000 for funeral expenses.
Taiwan's last major aviation disaster was also near Penghu. In 2002, a China Airlines Boeing 747 broke apart in midair and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 people aboard.
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