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Taiwan launches inquiry into plane crash as outrage grows

Publication Date : 25-07-2014


Taiwan has launched a formal investigation into its worst air disaster in a decade, even as outrage grows over why a plane was allowed to fly in stormy weather.

A carpenter known for his traditional Taiwanese woodwork, a military police officer and two female French medical exchange students were among the 48 who died.

Also gone was a local firefighter whose colleagues cried out: "He's our brother!" as they pulled his body from the twisted carcass of the plane.

Only 10 people on the plane survived on Wednesday night when it crashed into a village on Penghu island, 260km from Taipei.

At the scene, a mother wailed: "My dearest, will you not return?"

Another bit her tongue in a bloody protest when workers stopped her from looking through mangled remains to identify her child.

TransAsia Airways GE222 had 58 people on board, including four crew members, when it left the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

Originally set to take off at 4pm, the flight was delayed by Typhoon Matmo, which had slammed into Taiwan in the early morning.

At 5.43pm, GE222 was cleared to go, after the centre of the typhoon had moved on to China - though heavy rain continued.

Visibility as the plane neared Penghu was 1.6km, which met standards for landing, said the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

Deputy director-general Lee Wan-Lee said wind speeds were up to 21 nautical miles per hour, "fulfilling" take-off and landing standards.

It was thus up to the pilots to decide whether to fly or land, he said.

But the twin-engine turboprop apparently proved no match for the strong winds in Penghu that even slanted the lashing rain.

As it prepared to land at Magong Airport, it was forced to pull up because of poor visibility. On its second attempt at landing, it ploughed into the village of Xixi.

President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday said it was "a very sad day" in Taiwan's aviation history, and added that an investigative task force would be established.

The two black boxes - the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder - have been retrieved and are en route to Taipei.

But even before the contents can be analysed, some experts and netizens have lashed out at the regulators and the airline.

Meteorology expert Lee Fu-cheng lambasted the airline - Taiwan's third-largest after China Airlines and EVA Air - for being "extremely irresponsible".

In a note on Facebook, he said: "Aviation staff know that in a storm, there is the potential for instability - an updraft lifting the plane and a downdraft pressing it down so it cannot lift its nose - which is when a crash usually happens. In such bad weather, why take off?"

The International Air Transport Association told The Straits Times that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) sets the standards for the minimum visibility for landing at each airport.

Wind speed parameters during take-off or landing depend on the aircraft type.

It is not clear if the conditions on Wednesday met these standards. Taiwan is not a member of the ICAO because of diplomatic sensitivities.

But its safety standards are often higher than those of the international body, said aviation expert Hwang Tay-Lin of Chang Jung Christian University.

Some online also called for self-reflection, noting that passengers raise a hue and cry when flights are delayed or cancelled.

Dr Hwang said that in recent times, such pressures had grown.

"In Taiwan, passengers always protest at the counter if there are delays or cancellations, and sometimes, they even put pressure on the airline through government councils. Airlines have their challenges in this regard."

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