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23 killed as Plane crashes into river in Taiwan

By The Rainbow
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 Wednesday to retrieve passengers from a TransAsia Airways flight that crashed into a river in Taiwan. Credit Pichi Chuang/Reuters

A passenger plane crashed into a river in Taiwan's capital, Taipei, shortly after takeoff on Wednesday morning, killing at least 23 people, officials said. Rescue operations were underway to pull survivors from the water.

The plane, a TransAsia Airways twin turboprop flying as Flight 235, had just left Taipei Songshan Airport bound for nearby Kinmen, an island just off the mainland Chinese province of Fujian, Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration said. Fifty-three passengers and five crew members were aboard, the agency said.

In addition to those killed, 15 others were injured and the remainder were unaccounted for, the agency said Wednesday evening.

Dramatic images taken from car dashboard cameras and posted online showed the plane flying low over an elevated highway, its left wing clipping the road before it crashed into the river. The plane struck a taxi, injuring two people inside, the Taipei government said.

Local television showed the plane's white and purple fuselage resting in the Keelung River in eastern Taipei, as rescuers in inflatable boats searched.

Rescuers were having difficulty reaching the submerged parts of the plane, a city government statement quoted Hsu Ching-sheng, a deputy fire chief, as saying. Because the plane traveled some distance after striking the road, emergency responders had to expand their search area to account for the possibility that people were thrown from the plane, Mr. Hsu added.

One survivor, Lin Ming-wei, found his one-year-old son in the water three minutes after the crash, and immediately began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the Liberty Times newspaper reported. ”I absolutely can't lose my son,” Mr. Lin said, according to his brother, Lin Ming-yi.

The boy is now in intensive care and his condition is stable, the newspaper reported.

By 9 p.m., two cranes had lifted the fuselage onto the riverbank, and rescuers and investigators were combing through the plane's interior.

Shortly before the crash, a pilot indicated an engine problem, according to a recording of the plane's communication with air traffic control posted to a monitoring site. “Mayday, mayday. Engine flameout,” the pilot said.

The crash was the second for TransAsia in just over six months, following a crash in July that killed 48 people, and it seemed likely to raise further questions about the airline's safety. The cause of the July crash is still under investigation; that plane, an ATR-72, was attempting to land at Magong, in Taiwan's Penghu Islands, as Typhoon Matmo brought heavy rain and strong winds to the region.

The plane that crashed Wednesday, a French- and Italian-built ATR 72-600 similar to the model that crashed last year, was just over a year old, and it had gone in for service in April 2014, TransAsia said. It was last inspected on Jan. 26, the Civil Aeronautics Administration said. The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were found shortly after 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the agency said.

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An airline official said at a news conference on Wednesday that the plane's left engine had been replaced last year in Macau. The left Pratt & Whitney engine on the crashed plane had flown for more than 800 hours, while the right engine had flown for more than 1,000, the company said.

The pilot, 42, had 4,914 hours of flying time, including 3,400 on ATR-72 model planes, while the co-pilot, 45, had 6,922 hours of flight time, including 6,500 on ATR-72s, the Civil Aeronautics Administration said.

TransAsia flies chiefly to Taiwan and mainland China, as well as destinations in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Cambodia. The Taipei-Kinmen route, which takes just over an hour, is flown daily by TransAsia and is popular among the increasing number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, as well as business travelers from Taiwan flying to the mainland.

The local news media reported that 31 of the passengers on the plane were mainland Chinese who had come to Taiwan on group tours.

Taiwan once had a notoriously poor air safety record, but it has improved in recent years, with last year's Penghu crash the first deadly accident in 12 years.

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