A Taiwanese TransAsia turboprop plane carrying 58 people slammed into a bridge on Wednesday, careening on its wing almost in a cartwheel over the roadway and crashing into a shallow river in Taipei — a horrifying scene captured by a motorist’s video camera. The accident killed at least 31 people and injured more than a dozen others, according to local news reports. Twelve passengers are still missing.
Shortly after takeoff, one of the plane’s pilots sent a frantic message: “Mayday, Mayday, engine flameout.” A flameout is engine failure — when the fuel supply to the engine is interrupted or there is faulty combustion, Reuters reported.
The TransAsia Airways flight, carrying 53 passengers and five crew members, lost contact with flight controllers shortly after it departed at about 10:53 a.m. local time and crashed into Taipei’s Keelung River just minutes later, according to a statement from Taiwanese Central Disaster Response Centre. The text has been translated by the Guardian Australia.
Dramatic video footage captured by a motorist has emerged on social media, showing flight GE235, a turboprop ATR 72-600 aircraft, skidding on its wing across the roadway before plummeting into the river, not far from the city’s downtown Songshan Airport. On its way down, the plane also hit a taxi, injuring the driver, Taiwan’s TVBS news network reported. Images from local media showed the aircraft’s body protruding from the water on its side, which was missing a wing.
Taipei rescue teams were deployed to the scene in firetrucks, ambulances and watercraft vehicles. First responders in rubber boats crowded the water, searching for survivors. Passengers wearing life jackets swam to shore or were pulled from the wreckage using ropes. Fifteen people were rescued with injuries, according to the Associated Press.
About 10 hours after the crash, a crane successfully lifted the tail of the plane out of the water and to the shore, according to the Straits Times, which noted that the rest of the plane remained stuck in the riverbed.
The death toll was expected to rise once crews were able to search through submerged portions of the fuselage, which came to rest a few dozen yards from the shore, the AP reported.
The taxi driver who was hit and survived has been called the “luckiest man alive.” He reportedly told a doctor at the hospital that he remembers feeling “very scared.”
“I fainted the moment it hit us,” the driver said, according to a doctor who treated him at Taipei’s City Hospital. The Apple Daily newspaper reportedly had the story.
— Airline Reporter (@AirlineReporter) February 4, 2015
Wu Jun-hong, with the Taipei Fire Department, said those who were missing were either still in the plane or had been pulled down the river.
“At the moment, things don’t look too optimistic,” he told reporters at the scene. “Those in the front of the plane are likely to have lost their lives.”
The taxi driver was reported to be in stable condition, but some were not so fortunate. Some of those still missing are thought to be trapped inside a submerged section at the front of the plane, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The victims’ names have not been released, although Taiwan’s civil aviation authority told the Guardian Australia that the two pilots, both men, have been identified as Liao Jianzong and Liu Zizhong. A third trainee pilot was identified as Hong Binzhong. The passengers, including two children, were all reportedly from Taiwan and China. Local TV footage showed one child’s rescue.
In the video, rescuers are seen lifting a child onto a boat beside the wreckage.
The 31 passengers from China were traveling with two different tour groups and 22 others were from Taiwan.
A TransAsia spokeman declined to comment to the AP on the possible cause of the crash, but TransAsia chief executive Chen Xinde offered his “deep apology to the victims and our crew” at a news conference.
The black boxes — flight recordings that will help authorities determine what exactly went wrong — have been pulled from the water, according to local news reports.
Wednesday’s accident is somewhat reminiscent of the 1982 plane crash in Washington, D.C., where a severe snowstorm sent Air Florida Flight 90 careening into the city’s 14th Street Bridge after takeoff. Icy conditions kept the plane from gaining momentum during departure and, once airborne, it could not get enough speed and altitude to fly.
The aircraft hit the bridge, plummeting into the Potomac River.
The TransAsia Airways aircraft was the second to crash in the past year. Last summer, a flight from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, went down while attempting to land on Penghu, an island off the coast of Taiwan, killing 48 people and injuring 10 others. That aircraft was also a French-built ATR 72 plane. The plane’s manufacturer said it would send a team to Taiwan to investigate what went wrong, the AP reported.
[This story has been updated.]