THREE children, two of them brothers, were among the nine survivors of the crash of a China Airlines Airbus in Nagoya on Tuesday night, which left 262 passengers and crew dead.
As relatives began the grim task of identifying the burned and mangled corpses, investigators searched for clues to explain why the plane crashed just off the runway as it approached to land.
The two brothers, Yuji and Seiji Nakayama, six and three years old, were travelling with their mother and uncle, who both died. Their father, Tatsumi, who was waiting at the airport, said it was 'perhaps a miracle of God' that they survived. Sadashige Kikuyama, a fireman who rescued one of the boys, said he was trapped under one of the plane's tyres. 'I just happened to hear this faint call of a boy saying 'Mama, mama, it hurts'.' Both boys are in hospital, but doctors said they were expected to recover.
In addition two Taiwanese, two Filipinos, one Japanese and two unidentified passengers were being treated in hospital in Nagoya last night. A Japanese woman rescued from the plane's wreckage died in hospital earlier.
Speculation about the cause of the accident has focused on possible pilot error, as the Airbus A300- 600R apparently stalled and crashed on its tail after tilting upwards at a steep angle to the ground. According to Chu Wen Ching, a 41- year-old Taiwanese man who was among the survivors and was interviewed in his hospital bed, the passengers had no warning that anything was wrong. 'It happened so quickly that I didn't have any time to think. (After the crash) it was a mess inside the cabin. I was very scared.'
The crew of the plane, which was on a scheduled flight from Taipei to Nagoya, 150 miles south-west of Tokyo, contacted the air traffic control tower as it approached the airport with a routine request for permission to land. This was granted at 8.13pm by the tower, and the pilot confirmed the landing, giving no indication of any distress.
One and a half minutes later, the captain, Wang Lo Chi, radioed 'Going around', indicating that he was aborting the landing and about to turn for another attempt. The tower responded 'Roger, stand by for further instructions.' This was the last contact with China Airlines Flight 140. Thirty seconds later it crashed in a ball of flames to the right of the runway.
Eyewitnesses interviewed shortly after the accident disagreed over whether the plane had an engine fire before it crashed, but all said the plane was pulled up at a very steep angle before crashing backwards onto its tail. Aerial photographs of the crash site showed the impact mark of the tail, apparently confirming that the plane had stalled after attempting to climb too steeply.
Japanese aviation officials have suggested that the stall occurred either because of pilot error, or because of engine trouble. Local police raided the offices of China Airlines in Nagoya and confiscated documents on suspicion of professional negligence, but would not clarify why they were suspicious. The plane's black box flight information recorder has been recovered, and initial results of the investigation into the cause of the crash are expected within 10 days.
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