200 killed as Airbus crashes into homes

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The Independent Online
MORE than 200 people are feared dead after a China Airlines Airbus 300 crashed on landing yesterday in Taiwan.

The jet came down short of the runway at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport, near the capital, Taipei, and ploughed on to the coastal highway, coming to a stop when it hit a number of buildings and exploded into a inferno.

The first victims were four adults and a baby travelling in a car which was hit by the aircraft.

It then proceeded to destroy four buildings and hit dozens of houses.

Flight CI676, arriving from the Indonesian island of Bali, was carrying 182 passengers and 14 crew members. Rescuers worked through the night looking for survivors. The first to be found was a four- month-old baby who later died in hospital.

Officials are not holding out much hope of finding other survivors from the crash. "Judging from the scene, there is little chance of there being any survivors," an airport official told a reporter as he surveyed the smouldering wreckage. The Bodies and body parts were strewn over the coastal highway and surrounding rice fields.

Among the passengers were the governor of Taiwan's central bank, Sheu Yuan-dong, and his wife and the head of the bank's foreign-exchange department, Cyril Chen.

They had been attending a central bankers' meeting discussing the Asian financial crisis.

Taiwan has been playing a leading role assisting fellow Asian countries. Most of the other victims were thought to be tourists.

The cause of the crash is unknown. Last night, a China Airlines spokesman said that the company was awaiting further reports before making any comments.

He confirmed that the pilot had told the control tower that visibility was bad and that he was making a second attempt to land.

Visibility had been bad earlier in the day but had improved by nightfall when the plane came down. Contact was lost during the second attempt.

The "black-box" flight-information and communication recorder, which may shed further light on the accident, has been recovered.

Like most of China Airlines' pilots, both the captain and his deputy were ex-air force flyers. The captain had been with the airline since 1991. The crashed plane was seven years old. It is part of China Airlines' fleet of 10 Airbuses. Exactly the same model was involved in Taiwan's worst air disaster, when a China Airlines Airbus 300 exploded at Japan's Nagoya airport in 1994, killing 263 people.

Rescuers were on the scene within 10 minutes of the crash but had difficulty getting close to the plane and burning buildings. Witnesses said that they heard an enormous explosion, followed by a fire ball as the aircraft hit the buildings.

China Airlines, the national flag carrier, which was recently privatised but is still indirectly state controlled, has a relatively good safety record.

Relatives who had come to the airport gathered in shock at the terminal yesterday. Others congregated at China Airlines headquarters in Taipei to pore over passenger manifests hung on a wall.

No major discernible part of the aircraft, not even the fuselage, could be made out in the wreckage, which was strewn across a wide area adjacent to the airport.

"First I heard a great explosion and then the sky suddenly brightened." said a 60-year-old woman.

A heavy fog that apparently contributed to the crash still hung over the scene long afterwards A thick blanket of white firefighting foam gave the jarring impression that snow had fallen on the subtropical island.Officials said there were several foreigners aboard but their number and nationalities were not known.