Forty-eight people are dead and 10 injured after a TransAsia Airways Corp. passenger plane crashed as it prepared to land on Taiwan’s outlying Penghu Islands.
Flight GE222, a twin-engine ATR-72 turboprop, was making a second approach to Magong Airport when it went down amid heavy rains from tropical storm Matmo at about 7:20 p.m. local time yesterday, the Taipei-based carrier said.
The plane carried 54 passengers, two pilots and two cabin crew on the flight from southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung International Airport, said Alison Kao, a spokeswoman for the airline. Two of those on board were French nationals, she said.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, Lee Wan- Lee, deputy director general of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration, said today in a press briefing broadcast on Taipei-based TVBS.
“Weather conditions at the airport at that time were within standards,” Lee told reporters when asked whether the crash was caused by the tropical storm.
After Flight GE222 missed its initial approach, the pilot performed a so-called go-around maneuver, said Sherry Liu, an investigator at Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council. With a missed approach, pilots usually work off a checklist to ensure the plane clears the runway and avoids other aircraft and ground obstacles before re-entering the airport traffic pattern.
The 10 injured passengers were taken to two hospitals on Magong Island, TransAsia said in an e-mailed statement. The injured and families of the deceased will be offered NT$200,000 ($6,674) as preliminary compensation as well as a further NT$800,000 for funeral expenses.
“We haven’t ordered any immediate suspension of planes of the same type flown by TransAsia,” Jean Shen, director general of Civil Aeronautics Administration, said today by phone. “The cause of the incident is still under investigation.”
Flights are operating as scheduled today, TransAsia said in a statement to the Taiwan stock exchange. The company’s fleet has insurance policies covering the aviation hull and passengers, it said in the statement.
TransAsia, which was founded in 1951 as Taiwan’s first private civilian airline, flies eight ATR-72 aircraft built by a venture of Airbus Group NV and Finmeccanica SpA., mostly for domestic and short-haul international flights. In December 2002, a TransAsia ATR crashed into the sea, killing the two pilots, according to AviationSafetyNetwork, an air accident information website.
Television images from the crash site showed firefighters hosing down piles of twisted metal in the rain near the airport as rescuers carried people away in stretchers. Nearby homes were damaged, Sanlih Television reported.
Offices and schools across Taiwan were closed yesterday as Typhoon Matmo unloaded heavy rains with sustained winds of 119 kilometers per hour (73 miles per hour), knocking out power to about 500,000 homes. Matmo was downgraded to tropical storm yesterday afternoon.
Flight GE222 had been delayed, departing at about 5:35 p.m. yesterday, according to the airline’s website. It was scheduled to depart at 4 p.m. for the 35-minute trip northwest to the Penghu Islands, according to the website. The Penghus are off the western coast of Taiwan’s main island.
President Ma Ying-jeou said he was saddened by the crash, Taiwan’s most serious aviation-safety incident in recent years, according to a statement from his office late yesterday. He called for support for victims’ families and a comprehensive investigation.
The carrier’s shares dropped 5.5 percent, the biggest decline in more than a year, to close at NT$11.25 in Taipei. The stock earlier plunged by the daily limit to NT$11.10.
“It’s going to be hard for the company to recover quickly,” Dirk Yeh, an analyst at Jih Securities Co. said today. “I wasn’t expecting profit to improve much this year. This accident will exacerbate the situation.”
Penghu county has had 262 millimeters (10 inches) of rain since midnight local time yesterday, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.
The pilot of Flight GE222 had been flying for 25 years and had almost 30,000 flight hours, while the co-pilot had been flying about 2 1/2 years with approximately 3,000 hours, Kao said. Both are Taiwanese, she said. The ATR-72 was 13 years old, she said.
The airline is Taiwan’s third-largest, trailing China Airlines Ltd. and Eva Airways Corp., and has a safety rating of six out of seven on airlineratings.com, a review website.
A flight recorder has been found, Lee of the civil aviation bureau said.
–With assistance from Kyunghee Park in Singapore, Adela Lin in Taipei and David Fickling in Sydney.
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