Taiwan plane crash: Toll hits 48 as families visit scene

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Media caption,

Cindy Sui reports from the scene of the crash in Penghu, Taiwan

Forty-eight people are now known to have died after a passenger plane crashed in Taiwan's Penghu archipelago, amid stormy weather in the area.

The plane, carrying 58 people, crashed into buildings after a failed attempt to land at Magong airport.

The other 10 people on board were hurt. Two French nationals were among the dead, officials said. No crew members are thought to have survived.

Family members were flying to Penghu on Thursday, Taiwan media said.

Minister of Transportation Yeh Kuang-shih and aviation officials also flew to the island to start an investigation into the disaster, Taiwan's CNA news agency said.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
An investigation was due to begin on Thursday once aviation officials arrived
Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The plane, carrying 58 people, crashed during a second attempt to land
Image source, AP
Image caption,
This vehicle - photographed in torrential rain - was covered in rubble caused by the crash on Penghu
Image source, AP

The ATR-72 TransAsia Airways plane crashed as it flew from Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung to Penghu, a popular tourist destination in the Taiwan Strait.

Magong is the main city in Penghu, which consists of a main island and several smaller islands off the west coast of Taiwan.

It was Taiwan's first fatal air crash in more than a decade and came after Typhoon Matmo struck, bringing torrential rain and high wind.

The plane crashed on its second attempt to land at the airport. It lost contact with controllers after telling them it was going around again. The aircraft then came down in Xixi village outside the airport.

"I heard a loud bang," TV station TBS quoted a local resident as saying. "I thought it was thunder, and then I heard another bang and I saw a fireball not far away from my house."

Images late on Wednesday night showed firefighters dousing flames at the scene and and using torches to rescue injured passengers.

Five Penghu residents were injured on the ground but by Thursday morning all had been discharged from hospital, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said.

Media caption,

Footage from the crash site showed the devastation

Official said visibility at the time of the crash was 1,600m (one mile) and within acceptable standards for landing, despite the storm.

Airline representative Phoebe Lu told the Associated Press news agency that TransAsia suspected that typhoon weather had caused the crash but was awaiting the results of the investigation.

But Jean Shen, director of the CAA, said nine flights travelled that route between 14:00 and 19:00 on Wednesday.

"The weather reports showed it was totally OK for landing. We can not say for sure what went wrong at this point," Reuters news agency quoted her as saying.

The transport minister, meanwhile, addressed questions over why the flight was allowed to go ahead.

"Many people were questioning why the plane took off in typhoon weather... according to my understanding the meteorology data showed that it met the aviation safety requirements," Mr Yeh said.

'Very sad day'

TransAsia, a private airline, flies domestic routes in Taiwan and international routes in North and South-East Asia. It has apologised and says it will compensate relatives of those on board.

By Cindy Sui, BBC News, Taiwan

The crash is the worst disaster TransAsia has experienced since the company was founded in 1951 as Taiwan's first private civil airline. But the air carrier had suffered at least one other accident in the same area a few years ago.

That accident happened on 21 December 2002 when a cargo flight travelling from Taipei to Macau crashed into the sea off Magong city. The two crew members were killed. The Aviation Safety Council of Taiwan found that the crash was caused by ice accumulation on the plane and the flight crew not being sufficiently alert to the problem.

Besides domestic routes, TransAsia has been expanding into short-haul international flights including to mid-tier cities in mainland China and also South East Asia. Earlier this year, it announced the creation of a sister airline, Taiwan's first budget carrier.

Its fleet consists of more than 20 airplanes, with an average fleet age of 10 years, which is considered normal for Taiwan. The fleet includes six ATR 72-500, one of which was involved in the crash. That plane was 13 years old. The airline said the latest crash was weather-related but did not elaborate.

TransAsia said the pilot had 22 years of experience and the co-pilot had two and a half years. But it says it will have to wait for analysis of flight data from the black box to determine who was flying the plane.

In a statement, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou called it a "very sad day in the history of Taiwan aviation".

This is Taiwan's worst aviation disaster since May 2002, when a China Airlines flight from Taipei to Hong Kong crashed near Penghu, killing all 225 on board.