Rescuers searched the charred and tangled wreckage of China Airlines flight 140 for at least two missing people eight hours after the crash at Nagoya airport, some 160 miles west of Tokyo.
The cause of the crash was a mystery, an airport official said. He quoted air traffic controllers as saying the Airbus A300-600R appeared to attempt a landing after a flight from Taipei and then tried to take off again before touching the ground.
'The plane was coming in on a glide path but suddenly pulled up in a steep ascent,' a local resident told Japan's NHK television network. 'Then I saw the engines catch fire. It crashed and there was an explosion.'
Airport officials said a transcript of the plane's last radio contact showed the control tower had given the aircraft, code name Dynasty 140, permission to land when the pilot said: 'Nagoya tower, Dynasty going around.' The controller replied: 'Roger, stand by further instructions.' Thirty seconds later, the plane crashed.
Of the passengers, 158 were Japanese and 99 were of other nationalities. In Taipei, Yuan Hsing Yuan, President of China Airlines, told reporters that 63 of the passengers were Taiwanese. There was no immediate breakdown of other nationalities.
The survivors, all badly injured, were taken to hospital. Some 3,000 emergency workers took the dead to large tents erected at the airport as makeshift morgues as relatives of passengers crowded the airport terminal seeking information.
Beside the runway, rows of bodies lay under blankets as rescuers hacked through the tangled wreckage. The fuselage with its red, white and blue livery disintegrated, scattering debris over a wide area.
Airbus Industrie said the plane, delivered to China Airlines in 1991, was the first of that model to crash.
Nagoya airport officials said the dead included a baby girl. Television pictures showed two survivors in a hospital emergency room, a middle-aged man and a girl, both swathed in bandages.
The plane crashed at the south end of Nagoya's single runway, which is shared by civilian and military aircraft. The weather at the time was fine with little or no wind.
Hundreds of air force and civilian firefighters worked under lights with metal cutters and lifting gear to rescue the injured.
Last November, a China Airlines Boeing 747-400 skidded off a rain-soaked runway into Hong Kong harbour. No one was serious injured as the 296 passengers and crew scrambled to safety when the jet overshot the runway while landing during a storm.