Authorities in Taiwan launched operations to try and rescue survivors from a TransAsia passenger plane that had 58 people on board when it crashed shortly after takeoff from an airport in downtown Taipei. At least 23 died in the crash, according to state media. Dramatic video footage captured the plane’s rapid descent and crash landing into the shallow Keelung River.
The ATR-72 prop passenger jet crashed Wednesday morning shortly after clipping a bridge and hurtling sideways into a river. The flight was on its way to a domestic airport in the outlying Kinmen islands.
Taiwan's state-run Central News Agency reports 20 people remain unaccounted for. It said local fire department officials plan to soon pull the plane out of the water using a crane, adding that the aircraft's nose is buried in the riverbed.
Officials say at least 31 of the passengers were tourists from mainland China.
"Mayday, mayday, engine flameout" were the last words uttered before the crash, according to an air traffic controller recording posted online.
Video captured along a heavily used freeway next to the crash site showed the plane flying sideways as it rapidly lost altitude before hitting a taxi on an elevated freeway in its final seconds in the air. The taxi driver was mildly injured.
Some 165 national defense personnel and fire rescue crews scrambled to pull survivors and bodies from the wreckage.
National defense and fire rescue crews on rubber rafts extricated people from the door of the plane’s mostly submerged fuselage and took survivors to local hospitals. Another ATR-72 aircraft operated by the same airline crashed in the Taiwan-controlled Penghu islands last July, killing 48 people.
TransAsia Chief Executive Officer Peter Chen told reporters he did not know why the plane went down.
He said the plane was less than a year old and it had undergone scheduled maintenance on January 26. He said the airline apologizes deeply and that it will do its utmost to help the injured and families of the victims, doing all it can to mobilize people to do work in the crash aftermath.
Clean safety record
The 63-year-old airline had a clean safety record before last July but it is now likely to face tougher public scrutiny, along with the European aircraft manufacturer.
An official with the Civil Aeronautics Administration said the flight lost contact with air control at central Taipei’s Sungshan airport two minutes after takeoff.
The aviation administration will begin a formal investigation into the crash.