TAIPEI (AFP/Reuters) - As Taiwan rescuers scoured a river for 12 people still missing from a TransAsia plane crash on Thursday, tales of miracle escapes emerged among the 15 known survivors of the crash, as television footage showed a father cuddling his two-year-old son as they were taken to shore by boat after being rescued on Wednesday.
Together with the toddler's mother, the family had switched seats on the plane "out of a hunch" that saved their lives, the United Daily News said.
"The family originally sat in the heavily damaged left side but Lin Ming-wei felt uneasy after he heard noises before taking-off and requested to switch seats," the report quoted Mr Dai Bi-chin, a friend of the family, as saying after visiting them in hospital.
Their new seats put them next to a crack in the plane after it crashed, and the newspaper said Mr Lin was able to pull his wife to safety and then revive his son after spotting him in the water, blue and unresponsive.
“Right after Lin escaped the plane, he pulled up his wife, who was just next to him. He saw his son in the water, with face turning pale and lips turning purple,” a newspaper said.
"My brother just can't live without his son. When he found him, after lying in cold water for three minutes and with no signs of breathing or heartbeat, he performed CPR. He brought his son back," Mr Lin's brother Lin Ming-yi told reporters.
The media said it appeared the pilot, who was among the dead, had fought desperately to steer the stricken aircraft between apartment blocks and commercial buildings close to Taipei’s Songshan airport before crashing into the river.Dramatic pictures captured by a passing motorist showed the plane careening over an overpass, its nose up as its port-side wing struck the taxi and roadway just metres from passing cars. “The pilot’s immediate action saved many people,” Mr Lin’s brother Chris Lin told Reuters. “We all feel very lucky.”
Among the 15 survivors of the crash, 26-year-old flight attendant Huang Jin-ya had a second lucky escape - she was supposed to be on TransAsia Airways flight GE222 that crashed last July, killing 48 people and injuring 10 others, but switched her shift with a co-worker, according to local reports.
"She crawled out of the plane using her last moments of consciousness and saw water everywhere. She kept crying and said to me 'I thought I was going to die'," her aunt was quoted by the United Daily News as saying.
A TransAsia official said the airline would give the families of those killed TW$1.2 million (S$51,360) for funeral expenses and TW$200,000 to each of the injured. Two people on the ground were also injured, it said.
President Ma Ying-jeou was scheduled to pay his respects to the victims at a funeral home and visit the wounded at several hospitals later on Thursday, his office said.
“We have not found survivors or bodies of the 12 missing, but we will not give up. We’ll continue to search,” said Mr Yeh Chun-hsing, an official with Taipei’s fire department.
A total of 31 Chinese nationals were onboard the plane, of whom at least 16 were killed, 12 were missing and three were injured in the crash, the government said. Some of the grieving relatives arrived in Taiwan on Thursday.
Hundreds of rescuers in boats, as well as divers and soldiers mounted the search in the chilly waters, as the death toll rose to 31 with more bodies located, including those of the pilot and co-pilot, the authorities said.
The TransAsia ATR 72-600 crashed shortly after take-off from Songshan airport in Taipei on Wednesday, hitting an elevated road as it banked sidelong towards the Keelung River, leaving a trail of debris including a smashed taxi.
In an operation overnight large parts of the plane's fuselage were lifted from the river, enabling rescuers to recover bodies trapped inside, as divers on Thursday battled strong currents to search downstream for more victims.