A TransAsia Airways Corp. turboprop plane crashed into a river near Taipei moments after taking off, killing at least 25 of the 58 people on board in the second fatal accident in less than a year for the Taiwanese airline.
At least 15 people survived the crash of Flight GE235 and were taken to hospitals for treatment, according to the Civil Aeronautics Administration, with 18 occupants of the plane still unaccounted for. The aircraft’s cockpit-voice recorder and flight-data recorder have been recovered for analysis. The pilots called “Mayday, mayday, engine” distress call 2 minutes after takeoff, according to a recording posted on LiveATC.net.
The ATR 72-600 aircraft, a twin-engine turbo-propeller model carrying 53 passengers and five crew, took off in the morning from Songshan domestic airport in downtown Taipei on an hour-long flight to the island of Kinmen off mainland China. The pilot lost contact with the ground within four minutes, the airline’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Chen said.
Footage taken from a dashboard-mounted camera in a car showed the plane’s wings tilted at a steep angle as it swerved over a bridge, with one tip clipping a taxi and the railing before plunging into the Keelung River. Two people in the taxi sustained injuries, the city government said. Two tour groups from mainland China with 31 members were aboard the plane, made by Toulouse, France-based ATR.
Another TransAsia ATR crashed in July last year, killing 48 people. That plane went down after the pilots couldn’t find the runway seconds before their aircraft slammed down on Taiwan’s outlying Penghu islands, according to an accident report. Ten people survived that crash, which was also an ATR 72 twin-engine turbo-propeller aircraft.
Last year was the deadliest year for air travel since 2005 globally. Malaysia Airlines lost two Boeing Co. 777s -- one thought to have disappeared in the Indian Ocean, and flight MH17 presumed shot down over Ukraine. Then in late December, AirAsia Bhd. lost a plane in Indonesia. The global annual toll was 884, according to safety consultant Ascend Worldwide.
“An incident right after the Indonesia accident doesn’t reflect well on the region as whole and on the industry in this part of the world,” Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation research firm Endau Analytics, said from Singapore. “The skies over Taiwan are going to get crowded with increased traffic from mainland China. This is an urgent issue that needs to be resolved quickly.”
The Aviation Safety Council of Taiwan will lead the investigation, planemaker ATR said in a statement. The planemaker will advise French agency BEA, it said.
Onlookers watched on both banks of the Keelung River, which is adjacent to the airport, as a dozen rescuers were on top of the partially-submerged fuselage, trying to break through to check for more people. They managed to open at least one rescue hatch. Ambulances and fire trucks lined the south bank of the river, which stretches about 80 meters bank to bank in the area where the plane went down.
In the light drizzle against an overcast sky, rescuers were moving about in at least six small inflatable rescue boats. Rescue divers searched underwater, assisted by a hovercraft as a search helicopter hovered above the site.
Some of the passengers brought to the Taipei City Hospital had fractured bones and bruises, according to Chen Chia-chich, a spokesman for the medical center. A 38-year-old from mainland China was admitted to intensive care unit, while a 34-year-old mother and her 1-year-old boy were brought in a stable condition, he said.
The driver of the taxi that was hit by the plane and its female passenger were also brought to the same hospital, with finger bone fractures, he said.
China’s President Xi Jinping urged authorities to provide assistance to the families of those affected, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Established in November 1981, ATR is a partnership between Airbus Group NV and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, a Finmeccanica company, according to ATR’s website. While ATRs initially lost popularity to new regional jets being introduced in the early 1990s, its superior fuel efficiency and related lower operating costs have driven a rebirth at the Franco-Italian manufacturer in the past decade.
ATR has sold close to 1,500 aircraft and has over 180 operators in more than 90 countries. The ATR 72 can seat 70 passengers and every 15 seconds, an ATR turboprop takes off somewhere around the world, according to the website.
The airline’s shares declined 6.9 percent to NT$12.15 today, the biggest drop since October 2011.
Including today’s crash, TransAsia’s ATR 72 planes were involved in four accidents over the last two decades that killed 73 people, according to AviationSafetyNetwork, which tracks accident data.