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Taiwan plane crash: Typhoon Matmo could have caused TransAsia Airways disaster, airline suspects

The crash of Flight GE222 was Taiwan's first fatal air accident in 12 years

Typhoon conditions probably brought down a TransAsia Airways plane on a Taiwanese island, killing 48 people, the airline said today.

It is believed that stormy weather on the trailing edge of Typhoon Matmo was the likely cause of the crash in the Penghu island chain in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late on Wednesday.

The ATR-72 jet was travelling from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan with 58 passengers and crew on board when it crashed near the runway while attempting to land.

Among the victims were 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 Wednesday 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.

Video: Taiwan plane crash

An official at the Civil Aeronautics Administration, air traffic control, told Reuters that the inclement weather at the time of the crash did not exceed international regulations for landing.

Visibility was 1,600 metres and the cloud cover was as low as 600 metres, added the official, who declined to be identified.

The crash of Flight GE222 was Taiwan's first fatal air accident in 12 years. In 2002, a China Airlines Boeing 747 broke apart in mid-air near Penghu and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 people aboard.

On Thursday, 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.

The Central News Agency, citing the county fire department, said it appeared heavy rain reduced visibility and the pilot was forced to pull up and attempt a second landing.

The plane showed no defects and had ample visibility to land safely, said a spokesman for Taiwan's air regulator, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Lee Wan-lee.

The plane's captain had 22 years of flying experience and the co-pilot had 2-1/2 years, according to the Central News Agency. It said the airline was offering the family of each victim about $6,600 (£3,880) and paying another $27,000 (£15,900) for funeral expenses.

Additional reporting by Associated Press