A large Chinese airplane, probably a jet on a military training flight, crashed into a factory here today, killing all 12 passengers and perhaps 200 plant workers.
While there is no official confirmation of the crash, Chinese sources tipped off three Western journalists who later visited the site.
A Chinese eyewitness said he was working near the factory, half a mile from the old Peking airport that is now used for military flights. He said he heard a screaming noise, rushed outside and saw the plane come down in "an incredible explosion with flames going everywhere."
China never gives official reports of air crashes and there have been no accounts -- even unofficial -- of crashes with such a toll. It is not possible to investigate as is done in the West.
The Chines eyewitness, however, was forthcoming and as far as it was possible to check his story, he was telling the truth. He reported that many people rushed to the scene and within 10 minutes ambulances and official cars began to converge on the site.
Eventually he learned from a soldier stationed inside the plant that there had been 10 to 12 aboard the plane and that it had ripped through two factory buildings and came to its fiery halt in a third.
Further inquiries, he said, indicated that more than 200 were killed or wounded and "most of them were killed."
The crash site, in a suburban district none of the correspondents had visited before, was difficult to find. There were large numbers of armed soldiers throughout the area. We discovered a narrow bicycle path that skirted a shallow canal running behind the large, walled plant grounds.
Although there was a soldier equipped with a sub-machine gun stationed on a bridge, he made no move to stop us. We came upon a group of Chinese who were staring across the canal at the disaster site.
The witness suggested that the plane was one of 38 British-made Trident jets that China owns. Western military analysts here said later that 18 of the Tridents are used for military purposes and the airport is used for training their pilots.
Nine tall poplar trees, spaced about 10 feet apart, had been sliced in half. The entire end of an immense three-story factory building had collapsed. Behind it, a four-story building was also in ruins.
The Chinese who had gathered to look at the site from the canal confirmed that they had heard about a terrible plane crash but claimed they knew no details. At the side entrance to the factory, several soldiers, when asked what had happened, denied that there had been an accident. When we asked about the buildings and the trees, they said there was nothing wrong with them.