BEIJING, OCT. 2 -- A hijacked Chinese passenger plane slammed into two other jets and exploded after landing at an airport in southern China today, killing at least 127 people and injuring 53 others in one of China's worst civil aviation disasters, Chinese and Western officials said.
One Western survivor, who requested anonymity, said there was a struggle in the cockpit of the hijacked Boeing 737 as it landed at Guangzhou's Baiyun Airport. The plane careened into an empty Boeing 707 and landed on top of a Boeing 757 full of passengers bound for Shanghai before exploding into a fireball, according to survivors and Western sources.
Among the casualties were an unidentified number of foreign passengers, including residents of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, the official New China News Agency said. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said one American, Erin Lynne Thomas, of Oklahoma City, was in good condition with a broken limb at a Guangzhou (formerly Canton) hospital. But a second American woman on the plane was reported missing, he said.
The crash came as the Asian Games were in full swing in Beijing. Chinese officials have expressed hopes that the international sports competition could improve China's image, which was tarnished by last year's massacre of democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. But security forces have warned about unnamed "hostile elements" who want to disrupt the games.
Western observers said they did not know whether the hijacking was related to threats to the sports competition, which runs until Oct. 7. No information was available on the number, identity or motives of the hijackers.
Underscoring the seriousness of the accident, Premier Li Peng flew to the crash site and visited the injured at local hospitals, the Chinese news agency reported.
According to Wang Chunfu, spokesman for a committee investigating the crash,127 people were killed and 100 survived, including the 53 injured.
Most of the dead appeared to have been on the hijacked flight. Western sources who checked with hospital and airport personnel said nine of the hijacked plane's passengers or crew survived.
Official Chinese information was sketchy, but according to Western sources, 94 passengers and 10 crew members were aboard the hijacked plane and 198 passengers were on board the Shanghai-bound plane.
All three planes were owned by China's state airline, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), which rarely reports domestic crashes unless foreigners are involved. CAAC has one of the poorest safety records in the world. Its last major civil aviation disaster reported was in April 1982, when a CAAC plane carrying 112 passengers crashed into mountains near Guilin, in southwest China.
Flight 8301 originated in Xiamen, on China's southeastern coast, and was headed south for Guangzhou when the hijacking occurred shortly after 7 a.m. Guangzhou airport authorities were notified, and the airport was sealed off before the plane landed at about 9 a.m.
"Something abnormal happened, and the plane overshot the main runway, slamming into two other planes on the apron," the Chinese news agency reported. "The Boeing 737 burst into flames. As for the two other planes, the one with passengers aboard was destroyed while the other without passengers suffered severe damage."
News services quoted unidentified Chinese officials as saying the crash occurred when a hijacker exploded a bomb in the cockpit. The reports could not be confirmed, and at least one survivor said no bomb was detonated.
One Westerner who saw the crash scene said the hijacked plane "was snapped in half like a matchstick. All that was left of the fuselage was charred metal. It looked like a crematorium."