A TransAsia Airways jet that plunged into a river shortly after takeoff from Taipei airport Wednesday lurched between buildings and clipped a taxi and an overpass before crashing upside down, officials said.
Twenty-three of its 58 passengers and crew were killed, 20 are missing and 15 survived, Reuters reported.
Dramatic pictures taken by a motorist and posted on Twitter show the plane careening over the motorway soon after the turboprop ATR 72-600 aircraft took off in apparently clear weather on a domestic flight for the island of Kinmen.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” a volunteer rescuer surnamed Chen said of the most recent in a series of disasters to hit Asian carriers in the past 12 months.
Television footage shows survivors wearing life jackets wading and swimming clear of wreckage. Others, including a young child, were taken to shore in inflatable boats.
Emergency rescue officials crowded around the partially submerged fuselage of flight GE235, lying on its side in the river, trying to help those on board.
The plane missed apartment buildings by meters, although it was not clear if that was luck or whether the pilot was aiming for the river.
A video clip shows a van skidding to a halt on the damaged overpass after barely missing the plane’s wing, with small pieces of the aircraft scattered along the road.
TransAsia chief executive Peter Chen bowed deeply at a televised news conference as he apologized to passengers and crew.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his government had offered Taiwan any help necessary following the crash.
The last communication from one of the aircraft’s pilots was “Mayday Mayday engine flameout”, according to an air traffic control recording on liveatc.net.
A flameout occurs when the fuel supply to the engine is interrupted or when there is faulty combustion, resulting in an engine failure. Twin-engined aircraft, however, are usually able to keep flying even when one engine has failed.
The plane was powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW127M engines. Pratt & Whitney is part of United Technologies.
Lin Tyh-ming, head of Taiwan’s civil aviation authority, said the aircraft last underwent maintenance on Jan. 26. The pilot had 4,916 flying hours under his belt and the co-pilot had 6,922 hours, he said.
Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport, the smaller of the city’s two airports, provides mostly domestic flights but also connections to Japan, China and South.
A statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said 31 of those on board were tourists from the southeastern city of Xiamen near Taiwan’s Kinmen island.
The crash is the latest in a string of mishaps to hit Asian carriers in the past 12 months. An AirAsia jet bound for Singapore crashed soon after taking off from the Indonesian city of Surabaya on Dec. 28, killing all 162 people on board.
The disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet last March, and the downing of a sister plane over Ukraine four months later with a combined loss of 537 lives, have dominated a United Nations safety conference this week.
TransAsia is Taiwan’s third-largest carrier.
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