TransAsia starts first day of retraining programme for pilots after two deadly crashes

TransAsia Airways on Saturday started the first day of a programme to retrain its pilots after its second deadly crash in seven months. -- PHOTO: EPA
TransAsia Airways on Saturday started the first day of a programme to retrain its pilots after its second deadly crash in seven months. -- PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (AFP) - TransAsia Airways on Saturday started the first day of a programme to retrain its pilots after its second deadly crash in seven months, as rescuers retrieved five more bodies from the drowned plane.

Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) ordered all of TransAsia's 71 pilots who fly ATR planes to take oral tests on operating the aircraft as part of the retraining, after it emerged the pilots may have inexplicably shut down one of the engines before the crash.

"Starting today, all of TransAsia's 71 ATR pilots will undergo tests to be carried out by the CAA and third-party professional units for an estimated period of four days," the airline said in a statement.

"As a result, some of our domestic flights will be adjusted," it said, explaining that 90 domestic flights will be cancelled by Monday.

Pilots who fail the tests will be grounded immediately for an indefinite period of time pending further qualification training, according to the CAA.

On Wednesday, an ATR 72-600 plane plunged into a river in Taipei with 53 passengers and five crew members on board. Forty people were killed, fifteen survived and rescuers are still searching the river and submerged wreckage for another three who remain missing.

Five bodies were found downstream of the crash site, including one in flight attendant’s uniform, during a blanket search of the river by hundreds of rescuers and divers on Saturday, Taipei city fire department said.

The airline said it has scheduled four memorial services for the victims next week.

The latest accident comes after aviation authorities said TransAsia Airways had failed to meet around a third of the regulatory requirements imposed after another fatal crash in Taiwan’s western Penghu islands last July.

Investigators are still trying to establish what caused Flight GE235 to crash, but initial reports from the planes black boxes found the right engine had "flamed out" about two minutes after taking off from an airport in northern Taipei.

Warning signals blared in the cockpit and the left engine was then shut down manually by the crew, for unknown reasons, Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council said on Friday.

“The pilot tried to restart the engines but to no avail. That means that during the flight’s final moments, neither engine had any thrust,” said the council’s director Thomas Wang. “We heard ‘Mayday’ at 10:54:35.”

Analysts have said the pilots may have caused the crash by turning off the wrong engine.The plane crashed shortly after take-off during a domestic flight to an outlying island.Startling amateur footage showed it hitting the road as it banked steeply away from buildings and into the Keelung River, leaving a trail of debris including a smashed taxi.Chief pilot Liao Chien-tsung has been hailed as a hero after reports emerged that his body was found still clutching the joystick, after he apparently battled to avoid populated areas.His father has said it is too early to speculate as to his role in the crash.“We are not clear about the content (of the investigation). It is very complicated and we should let them (experts) investigate,” he told local TVBS news channel.The CAA has grounded a total of 22 ATR planes from two Taiwanese airlines for safety checks following the accident, and TransAsia has been banned from applying for new routes for one year.

TransAsia has announced that it will invite international aviation safety experts to conduct a year-long safety review of the company as well as adopting measures to enhance its organisation and training as well as adjusting existing routes.