Wed, Aug 22, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Investigators recover plane's black boxes

AFP AND AP , TAIPEI, OKINAWA AND TOKYO

Japanese and Taiwanese investigators yesterday recovered the two black boxes belonging to a China Airlines aircraft that caught fire upon landing at Naha Airport on the Japanese island of Okinawa on Monday.

All 165 passengers and crew, most from Taiwan, survived the blaze, which erupted just moments after the Boeing 737-800 landed. Panicked travellers slid down emergency chutes and raced away before fire engulfed the jet.

Members of a rail and air accident inquiry committee under Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport yesterday said that a preliminary reading of the flight data recorder had been completed, but no details would be made public until the data is sent back to Tokyo for further analysis.

The cockpit voice recorder, on the other hand, is still being read by experts, the committee members said.

The probe involved some 40 investigators from Japan's transport ministry and Okinawan police. Investigators from Taiwan and the US were also scheduled to join the probe, officials said.

"Our team in Okinawa will collect necessary evidence including the voice recorder for analysis," Hiromi Tsurumi, an official of the transport ministry's Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission, said in Tokyo.

"It's not easy to single out the causes of an airplane accident because several elements usually go together," Tsurumi said. "It may take ... like at least half a year to announce the causes of the accident."

Meanwhile, the head of China Airlines yesterday handed out apologies and cash to passengers who made the escape on Monday.

Chief executive officer Chao Kuo-shuai (趙國帥) shook hands with each of the Taiwanese tourists.

"I apologize from the bottom of my heart," Chao told the Taiwanese in Naha, giving each one a red envelope containing US$100. "I feel ashamed for causing so much trouble."

Under the Civil Aviation Act (民用航空法), each passenger can get up to NT$20,000 in compensation for their damaged luggage.

"I feel for their efforts, but I can't be satisfied," one of the Taiwanese tourists said. "My luggage and all my other things were burned up."

A company spokeswoman in Tokyo said the firm was separately considering compensation to the tourists for damage to luggage and other belongings on the aircraft.

In Taiwan, one woman who survived the inferno said: "I dare not fly China Airlines any more."

Another China Airlines flight arrived yesterday in Naha, Okinawa's main city, where the airport was operating as normal as investigators sifted through the charred wreckage of the plane.

Johnson Sun (孫鴻文), the airline spokesman, said yesterday that the pilot of the plane supervised the emergency evacuation of passengers in the moments before the jet exploded in flames.

Pilot Yu Chien-kuo (猶建國) jumped from the window after he saw that all passengers had been evacuated from the plane, Sun said.

Copilot Tseng Ta-wei (曾大為) jumped from the window less than a second before the pilot, Sun said.

"Our pilots were the last to depart," he said. "They told the flight attendants to execute an evacuation and help passengers escape within the shortest possible time."

"They did what they should have and acted with great bravery," he said.

The entire evacuation took three minutes after ground crew told the pilot they spotted fire on the jet's wings, Sun said.

Sun confirmed media reports that China Airlines crew failed to inform passengers of the evacuation through its in-flight public address system.

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