Sunday, May 31, 2015Sunday, May 31, 2015

Probe on Taiwan plane crash underway amid questions over why plane was allowed to fly

Published on Jul 24, 2014 11:16 AM

A formal investigation into Taiwan's worst aviation disaster in a decade is underway, with the island's Transportation Minister Yeh Kuang-shih and senior aviation officials arriving at the crash site early Thursday.

Forty-eight people died and 10 were injured after a TransAsia Airways flight crashed on the outlying island county of Penghu on Wednesday evening, the airline confirmed on Thursday morning.

Two of the passengers were French. One is a Hong Konger. The rest, including the four crew members, are believed to be Taiwanese.

The ATR-72 aircraft, which was flying from the southern port city of Kaohsiung, was trying to land at the island's airport amid inclement weather.

A local resident walks past the tail section of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 as rescue workers and firefighters search through the wreckage the morning after it crashed near the airport at Magong on the Penghu island chain on July 24, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

On its second attempt, it ploughed into a village on the island, before bursting into flames.

On Thursday morning, firefighters and soldiers continued to pick through the twisted steel carcass of the plane and the rubble that has scattered across buildings and roofs, hoping for signs of survivors.

Investigators from the Aviation Safety Council are expected to begin their investigation by first retrieving the aircraft's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the crash site.

But even before that, Taiwanese netizens have began raising questions about why the plane was allowed to fly despite the stormy weather.

Typoon Matmo had slammed into Taiwan in the early hours of Wednesday, leading to flight cancellations and suspensions in the morning.

The TransAsia Airways Flight GE 222 was delayed from its scheduled take-off at 4 pm.

But at 5.43pm, it was cleared to go.

The centre of the typhoon had moved on, though heavy rain remained.

Ms Jean Shen, director-general of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, was reported as saying that although there were reports of a thunderstorm, the plane was allowed to fly after weather and visibility clearance.

But as the plane was preparing to land at Magong Airport, it was forced to pull up because of poor visibility, the Penghu fire department said. On its second attempt at landing, it crashed in the village of Xixi in Penghu's Huxi Township.

A video by a local resident and uploaded on Taiwan news website Apple Daily showed strong wind gusts that propelled lashing rain almost horizontal while lightning and thunder roiled the skies. It was taken at around 6pm, an hour before the plane crashed.

The tragedy led many to question if the authorities should relook regulatory standards.

Writing on Facebook, political commentator Wang Dan said: "I don't understand why the plane was allowed to fly when Penghu was experiencing such heavy rain and thunder.

"If you say that the conditions were deemed acceptable under the regulatory standards, then surely the standards are way too lax."

Others called for self-reflection, saying that some Taiwanese passengers often raise a hue and cry when flights are delayed or cancelled.

Said Titan Shih: "The airlines have spoilt us. When they cancel flights, there will be a scene at the airport. We must reflect and remember that when flights are delayed due to weather, it is for our safety."

Wednesday's crash marked the worst aviation incident involving a Taiwan-based airline since 2002. Then, a China Airlines flight from Taipei to Hong Kong plummeted into waters near Penghu, killing all 225 people on board.