The Penghu District Court yesterday acquitted air traffic controller Lee Chia-feng (李佳峰) and air force Colonel Ching Yuan-wu (荊元武) in the first ruling relating to the TransAsia Airways Flight GE222 crash in 2014 that claimed 49 lives.
The acquittal is based on an investigation which found that captain Lee Yi-liang (李義良) and first officer Chiang Kuan-hsing (江冠興) had violated standard operating procedures, leading to the ATR 72-500 aircraft’s crash landing on July 23, 2014.
Ching was the officer on duty at the military and civilian-use Magong Airport in Penghu that night.
Ching was responsible for deciding runway use and the directions for landing and takeoff, while Lee Chia-feng was responsible for providing meteorological data and granting landing and takeoff approvals.
Due to inclement weather conditions, the pilots requested to land on runway No. 02, which is mainly used by military aircraft, as it is equipped with an instrument landing system — the international standard for navigating aircraft on final approach for landing — instead of using the VHF omnidirectional radio range (VOR), a short-range radio navigation system, the ruling said.
Ching denied the request, and Lee Chia-feng failed to relay the information to the captain and copilot, the ruling said, even though visibility had dropped from 1,600m to 600m between 7:01pm and 7:06pm, below the minimum required visibility of 800m for the original landing on runway No. 20.
Yesterday’s ruling attributed the main cause of the crash to Lee Yi-liang’s violation of standard operating procedures by flying below the minimum descent altitude at between 168ft and 192ft (51m and 59m) — runway No. 20 has a minimum descent altitude of 330ft (101m) when using VOR — and attempting to visually locate the runway, leading to the missed approach.
Ching’s denial of the runway change request and Lee Chia-feng’s failure to provide weather information did not directly cause the crash, the ruling said.
Both men were therefore acquitted of the charges, it said.
Officials from the Penghu District Prosecutors’ Office said they have to examine details of the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
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