CAL 747 crashes with 225 aboard

AVIATION DISASTER: Authorities are scrambling to recover bodies and say there is little chance of any of the flight's passengers surviving the catastrophe

By Stephanie Low and Chang Yu-jung  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Sun, May 26, 2002 - Page 1

China Airlines flight CI 611 with 225 people on board crashed into the sea near Penghu yesterday afternoon after taking off from Taipei en route to Hong Kong.

The search-and-rescue effort was still underway and no survivors had been discovered as of press time last night. More than 100 bodies have been spotted, according to a China Airlines spokesman.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

The Boeing 747-200, which took off from CKS International Airport at 3:08pm, disappeared from radar screens at around 3:30pm, when it was about 19km from Makung city, officials said.

According to China Airlines' records, the plane was carrying 206 passengers, three of whom were infants, and 19 crew members.

All 19 crew members as well as 190 passengers on board were Taiwanese, including two United Daily News reporters and a former legislator.

In addition to 14 Hong Kong, Macau and Chinese residents, foreign passengers also included one Singaporean, identified as Sim Yong-joo, and one Swiss, identified as Luigi Heer.

The air force and coast guard sent ships and helicopters to search for the plane as soon as the accident was reported, with the first body found at about 6:14pm around the port of Chihkan, located north of Penghu Island.

The Executive Yuan established an emergency command center headed by Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Lin-san (林陵三) to coordinate the handling of the crash aftermath.

Showing his concern about the accident, Premier Yu Shyi-kun went to the airport in the afternoon and then rushed to the Civil Aeronautics Administration office last night to take command of the search-and-rescue efforts in person.

"This is a matter for regret," Yu said.

Yu said President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had ordered the military to mobilize all possible resources to search for survivors, as long as the nation's combat readiness was not impaired.

Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) said after a preliminary investigation that the ministry ruled out possibilities that the crash resulted from bad weather or engine failure, as both the flight and weather conditions were reported to be normal before the crash, Chang said.

Chang added that the control tower had not received any distress calls before the plane went missing.

Data indicate that the crash took place between 3:37pm and 3:40pm, when two Cathay Pacific planes in the vicinity received emergency location-indicator signals from the downed China Airlines plane, Chang said.

The Executive Yuan's Aviation Safety Council created an investigative panel last night to look into the cause of the accident.

Kay Yong (戎凱), managing director of the council, who also serves at the panel's chief investigator, said the council has contacted the US' National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing Company to help with the probe.

China Airlines officials, meanwhile, bowed and apologized to the bereaved families for the terrible air disaster.

A number of agitated relatives of the passengers rushed to the China Airlines office in Taipei to gather information related to the crash, and were upset with the company's failure to immediately provide them with details.

China Airlines Senior Vice President James Chang (張良士) promised his company would offer all possible assistance to the relatives of the passengers with regard to compensation.

"We are regretful for such an unfortunate accident and we would like to pay our gratitude to the government for assisting with the recovery," Chang said.

With the assistance of China Airlines, around 200 relatives of the passengers flew to Makung last night to identify the bodies.

This has been the 14th air crash involving China Airlines since 1969, official statistics indicate. The company's notorious safety record once put it on the list of the world's most dangerous airlines.

The last known fatal China Airlines accident was a crash-landing in Hong Kong in 1999, killing three people.

Over 200 people were killed respectively in the 1994 crash in Nagoya and the 1998 crash in the Taoyuan in the vicinity of CKS International Airport.