Taipei, July 24 (CNA) Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) Director-General Jean Shen on Thursday defended her organization's decision to clear flights a day earlier even as witness accounts linked the evening crash of TransAsia Airways Flight 222 to inclement weather. Speaking from the site of the accident in Penghu, Shen admitted that the weather had in fact taken a turn for the worse Wednesday afternoon as Typhoon Matmo was making its way through the Taiwan Strait toward China
. But meteorological conditions met the basic standards for flying, she said, citing an initial investigation. According to CAA data, nine other flights from Taiwan proper managed to land smoothly in Penghu over the course of the afternoon, including a Uni Air flight that touched down just minutes before the tragic crash that killed 48 of the 58 people on board GE 222 at 7:06 p.m. Visibility seems to have suddenly dropped at the local Magong Airport around 7:10 p.m. to just 800 meters -- half the minimum safety standard of 1,600 m -- leading a Far Eastern Air Transport flight to abort landing and fly back to Taiwan. Witnesses to Taiwan's deadliest crash in recent memory reported heavy rain and lightning ahead of the plane's sudden descent into a residential area next to the airport. Shen said the Aviation Safety Council will conduct further investigations. Magong is located on the Penghu archipelago, about 130 kilometers northwest of Kaohsiung, where the ill-fated flight originated.
(Chen Ja-fo and Wesley Holzer)