Taipei, July 23 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou
expressed deep sorrow Wednesday night after learning of the TransAsia Airways crash in Penghu that may have killed as many as 46 of its 58 passengers, according to a Presidential Offices spokesman. Ma Wei-kuo (no relation) said the president has instructed the relevant authorities to get to the bottom of what caused the Wednesday evening accident as soon as possible. The president called Premier Jiang Yi-huah as soon as he learned of the air crash on the outlying island county, the spokesman said. Jiang immediately set up a disaster response center at the Executive Yuan to handle the aftermath of the accident, including rescuing the injured, finding the cause of the crash and providing every possible assistance to the crash victims' family members, the spokesman said. President Ma is closely watching what he called the most severe aviation accident in Taiwan in years, the spokesman added. The ruling Kuomintang, which is chaired by President Ma, offered its condolences to the families of those killed and injured in the crash and said in a statement that it will do whatever it can to offer family members of the victims "necessary aid." The Kaohsiung-Magong flight, coded GE 222, crashed in Penghu's Huxi Township amid heavy rain just past 7:06 p.m.
As of just past midnight Thursday, the number of people killed remained unclear. Transportation and Communications Minister Yeh Kuang-shih, who set out for Penghu at 11 p.m. Wednesday, confirmed that 54 passengers and four crew members were on board the flight. He initially said 47 people had died, but later said that 12 had survived, 46 "were missing," and around a dozen bodies had been found at the crash site. The airplane, a twin-engine turboprop ATR 72, crashed into residential buildings and caught fire after losing contact with Magong airport. No residents were killed but four were apparently injured, according to local eyewitnesses. The flight was scheduled to take off from Kaohsiung at 4 p.m., heading for Magong. The departure, however, was delayed until 5:42 p.m. due to bad weather. The Penghu fire department said the passenger aircraft was trying to land in the inclement weather when it crashed on its second attempt. An investigation has been launched to determine what caused the crash. (By Kelven Huang and Elizabeth Hsu)