A TransAsia Airways flight in Taiwan carrying 58 passengers and crew careened past buildings, clipped a highway and crashed into a shallow stream, killing at least 19 people.
TransAsia GE 235, a domestic flight from Taipei to Kinmen – a small archipelago near mainland China – crashed at 10.56am local time, according to Taiwan’s aviation council, about three minutes after it took off. Astonishing dash-cam videos posted online showed the turboprop ATR 72-600 aircraft in its final airborne moments, turning vertical over a highway and clipping a taxi cab and a bridge with its left wing.
At least 34 people have been pulled from the plane’s wreckage, which remains partially submerged in shallow water about 100 metres from the shore. Twenty-four people remain missing, according an early evening report from Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration.
The reported death toll has been fluctuating throughout the day, with estimates as low as 19 and as high as 23 by early evening local time. The administration said 15 others were injured.
The rescue effort is continuing. “Several fire engines, ambulances, water craft and almost 170 rescue staff have been dispatched,” said a press release by the Taiwanese Central Disaster Response Centre. Local TV stations continue to broadcast live footage of rescue workers in life vests and yellow helmets surrounding the plane’s fuselage in inflatable rafts.
At the moment, things don’t look too optimistic,” said Wu Jun-hong, a Taipei Fire Department official who was coordinating the rescue, according to the Associated Press. “Those in the front of the plane are likely to have lost their lives.”
The driver of the clipped taxi cab “has been sent to a local hospital”, an assistant to the Crown Taxi Company’s general manager who identified himself as Mr Yang told the Guardian. “He has head injury and concussion, but all of his vital signs are stable.” Yang added that the company planned to raise the topic of compensation with TransAsia Airways at a later date.
The flight’s black box has been recovered, according to local media, though the cause of the crash remains unknown.
“Weather conditions were good and the pilot had 14,000 hours of flying hours and the co-pilot 4,000 hours,” Lin Zhiming, a representative from Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Authority, told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Among the passengers were 31 mainland Chinese tourists, travelling with two local travel agencies: Teyung Group, and Flying Tours.
Lin Liqing, manager of the Teyung Group,said that she had just arrived in Taipei to help with the handling of the incident. “We are currently heading to the crash site and checking the passenger list with TransAsia Airways,” Lin said. She added that the passengers had been sent to eight local hospitals, and that she had not yet been able to visit them.
The manager of Flying Tours said that among 15 mainland Chinese tourists on the plane who were travelling with the agency, he had only confirmed one injured passenger – one of the two infants on board. He had no information on the remaining 14 people.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS showed rescuers pulling a toddler alive from the wreckage and rushing him or her to safety.
The chief executive of TransAsia, Chen Xinde, has publicly apologised for the crash.
Wednesday’s crash is the second by a TransAsia flight within the past six months — in July 2014, TransAsia flight ATR-72 crashed while attempting to land in the Penghu Islands soon after a typhoon, killing 48 people. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.