Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Mysterious plane plunge injures 21

UNDER INVESTIGATION Two people fractured ribs and one suffered a brain hemorrhage when a plane headed for South Korea was forced to descend quickly

AGENCIES , TAIPEI AND SEOUL

In a photo provided by the Jeju Fire Station, firefighters carry an injured passenger from a Far Eastern Air airplane at the airport on Jeju Island, South Korea, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Twenty-one people aboard a Taiwanese plane were injured yesterday when it was forced to change course to avoid another aircraft while approaching South Korea's Jeju island, airline officials said.

Nineteen of them needed hospital treatment and three were still in hospital, including one with a brain hemorrhage, medical staff said.

Far Eastern Air Transport Corp said its flight FE306, which departed from Taipei at 9:04am with 129 passengers on board, responded to a collision alarm and plunged from 10,360m to 9,100m as it approached Korean airspace.

The sudden plunge caused injury to 16 passengers and five crew members who had not fastened their safety belts.

After the plane landed on Jeju Island, the 21 injured individuals were sent to a hospital, the airline said.

Medical officials in Jeju said two people suffered fractured ribs and one had a brain hemorrhage.

Far Eastern Air Transport spokesman Chang Yu-peng (張友朋) said that flight controllers had told the plane to reduce altitude from 10,670m to 10,360m, but an alarm designed to avoid airborne collisions went off, prompting the pilots to make an emergency descent for around 10 seconds, Chang told reporters in Taipei.

"The pilots said they suspected that a Thai jetliner was flying nearby at the same altitude," he added, praising the pilots' "correct and proper" handling of the incident.

The pilots had no time to warn passengers of the sudden descent, Chang said.

The incident occurred shortly before the flight touched down in Jeju, he said.

As for what had caused the incident, the airlines said that more information would be provided when it becomes available.

Chang said that around half the passengers were en route to Shanghai and were transiting in South Korea.

A four-member team from South Korea's transport ministry was sent to Jeju to investigate.

"An investigation will be carried out to determine the cause of the accident by analyzing the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder of the aircraft and interviewing the pilots, flight attendants and passengers," ministry official Byeon Soon-cheol said.

"We don't know yet what caused the airplane to lose height so suddenly," Byeon said.

An Incheon Air Traffic Center official said the flight lost height around 50km to 60km south of Jeju.

"It is true that a Thai Airways aircraft was flying nearby," the official said, adding that the Thai plane had been bound for Bangkok after taking off from Incheon west of Seoul.

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