Avi Putri was on Facebook at home in Taiwan’s Penghu Islands when she heard the loud bang. She rushed out into the stormy night to see flames blazing 30 meters away (98 feet) from what looked like an electrical fire.
“I told grandma to get up so we can get out of here,” said Putri, referring to the 86-year-old woman whom the 31-year-old helper is hired to care for.
It was only minutes later, when four Taiwanese passengers knocked on the door asking for her phone, that Putri realized that TransAsia Airways Corp.’s fatal Flight GE222, an ATR-72 turboprop, had narrowly missed the roof and crashed.
On the second floor of the apartment, 66-year-old Wang Yun-long saw the TV signal go blank -- the plane had cut the overhead cables. Then he heard a loud noise, rushed to the window where he saw flames and headed downstairs.
“Quick, call an ambulance,” Wang said he heard one of the female passengers say. “Our plane has crashed.”
After Putri made the call and gave water to the four passengers -- three female and a male -- one of the women then called her father to relay the news, Wang said. Shortly, the ambulances came and they were taken to hospitals, he said.
Their injuries seemed minor, Wang and Putri said. The male survivor, who appeared to be in his 60s, had a nosebleed, while one of the women, who looked in her 30s, could barely walk from a leg injury, the witnesses said.
The four visitors were among the 10 people who lived through Flight GE222 from Taiwan’s Kaohsiung city to the sleepy Penghu Islands. The crash, which occurred less than a week since the downing of Malaysian Air Flight 17, left 48 dead in Taiwan’s worst air disaster since a China Airlines Corp. jet broke up over the same area 12 years ago and killed 225 people.
By late morning yesterday, seven of the survivors had been moved to hospitals in Taiwan’s main island. Two were injured too critically to move, while one had returned home, TransAsia said in a statement.
Flight GE222 had circled the airfield before crashing at about 7:20 p.m. local time on July 23, according to Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration. The pilots may have attempted canceling the landing before overflying the runway to circle back and make a subsequent attempt -- a maneuver called “go-around” -- said Sherry Liu, an investigator at Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council.
Witnesses at the scene said that the weather was bad. Ni Hu-zheng, whose home is less than 10 meters from where the front of the fuselage lay on its back, said he barely heard the crash because of the roaring wind and rain.
Weather was a factor in the crash, the Taipei-based carrier said in a statement yesterday. Hours earlier, CAA deputy director-general Lee Wan-lee told reporters in televised comments that there were thunderstorms in the area at the time while weather at the airport was within “standards.”
Right outside Ni and Putri’s homes, workers, investigators and emergency responders were still collecting debris and remains from the accident.
“I have seen so many bodies in the past day,” Tsai Yao-jen, the 42-year-old-local fire chief, said in an interview. While the China Airlines disaster in 2002 involved more people, “this one is also quite terrible,” he said.
Near this week’s crash site, Buddhist monks were chanting prayers under the blazing sun yesterday, while relatives held joss sticks in a traditional ceremony to call on the spirits of lost family members.
“Come home mama,” a bespectacled woman in black shirt wailed. “Don’t go. Please don’t go.”