Taipei: Stormy weather on the trailing edge of Typhoon Matmo was the likely cause of a plane crash on a Taiwanese island that killed 48 people, the airline said today.
The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed while landing in the Penghu island chain in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late yesterday.
The plane was flying from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. The victims included 46 Taiwanese and two French medical students who were interns in Taiwan.
The crash came hours after Matmo passed over Taiwan. About 200 airline flights at Taiwanese airports had been cancelled earlier in the day due to rain and high winds. Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau had warned of heavy rains into yesterday evening even after Matmo moved west into China.
"According to what we can understand so far, this was due to weather, the influence of the typhoon," a TransAsia representative, Phoebe Lu, told The Associated Press. She said the carrier was waiting for Taiwanese authorities to complete an investigation to get confirmation.
The crash of Flight GE222 was Taiwan's first fatal air accident in 12 years. Today, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou called for one minute of silence in memory of the victims. "I think that like a lot of citizens, last night I felt very sorrowful," he said in comments broadcast on television.
The airline identified the French passengers as Jeromine Deramond and Penelope Luternauer. They were medical school interns at Taipei's National Taiwan University, the university said. The airline said one of the injured 10 survivors had gone home and five local residents who were hurt on the ground were treated and released.
The crash damaged eight houses, according to Chen Tung-yi, a section chief with the Penghu disaster response center. "All the bodies have been dug out," Chen said. Family members were flying to Magong airport near the crash site to visit a morgue and identify victims, the airline said. Penghu, a scenic chain of 64 islets, is a popular tourist site about 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
The 14-year-old plane lost contact with the tower after saying it would make a second landing attempt, according to the head of Taiwan's air regulator, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Jean Shen. Visibility as the plane approached was 1,600 meters (one mile), which met standards for landing, and two flights had landed shortly before GE222, the aviation agency said.