Officials face angry questions over Penghu crash
Investigators looking at possible first point of impact
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-07-25 03:23 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Government and airline officials faced angry questions Friday from relatives of the 48 victims in the Penghu airline crash.

A TransAsia Airways flight from Kaohsiung to Makung, the capital of Penghu, crashed during a second landing attempt amid strong winds and heavy rains in the wake of Typhoon Matmo Wednesday evening. A total of 48 passengers and crew members died, including the pilots, while ten passengers and five local residents were injured.

The investigation has focused on the weather, with wind shear causing the plane to go off course and crash into homes listed as one of the main possibilities.

Visiting Penghu Friday morning, TransAsia Airways Chairman Vincent Lin faced reproaches from relatives asking why the plane had been allowed to fly while the typhoon was still making its influence felt in the area.

At the funeral home, grieving relatives asked Lin to give the victims’ lives back. He cried and bowed in apology as camera crews surged around the scene.

The airline took out front-page ads in several major newspapers Friday, apologizing for the disaster and promising to shoulder responsibility. TransAsia would fully cooperate with the investigation and to heed the lessons of the accident.

Media reports said that TransAsia airplanes were involved in eight accidents within the past 13 years. Six of the accidents occurred with the same type of plane as in Penghu, the French-Italian-made ATR-72.

Civil Aeronautics Administration Director General Jean Shen also faced questions about why the flight had been allowed to go ahead despite the storm. Government officials have maintained that all regulations were taken into account and that weather data indicated that the flight could go ahead. Several other flights arrived in Makung without problem in the hours preceding the TransAsia Airways aircraft.

The airline organized a memorial service for the victims Friday, but erroneously invited the father of a young woman who only later turned out to be still alive, even though severely injured, in hospital.

On Friday, investigators reportedly found a new scene where the plane might have impacted the ground. At a location about 200 meters north of the main crash site, investigators found the tops of trees had been shorn off while there were also signs of burning, reports said. The media launched the theory that the plane might have hit the trees first, with the pilot trying to raise the plane to a higher altitude but failing to succeed, resulting in the crash.

At the scene in the Penghu township of Huhsi, soldiers were disinfecting the area and breaking down plane parts before removing them for further investigation. A foreign citizen, allegedly representing British-based Charles Taylor PLC, was seen taking pictures of the scene, reportedly to prepare insurance claims.

The two data recorders had been flown to Taipei and were being analyzed by a team of five experts, who were expected to complete their work by next week, reports said. A full report about the crash with a detailed explanation might take months to wrap up, aviation experts said.

A team of 28 prosecutors and coroners from the Ministry of Justice had identified 35 of the 48 victims by Friday noon, reports said. The list included 23 Penghu residents, 21 people from Kaohsiung, two from Taipei and two French medical exchange students. An eight-member team of dentists was standing by to try and identify the more difficult cases, reports said.

Seven of the bodies were flown to Kaohsiung Friday afternoon, including that of the flight’s pilot, 60-year-old Lee Yi-liang.

Of the ten people injured, six were flown to Kaohsiung for further treatment and two to the Taipei area. One person remained in hospital in Penghu, while another one had been discharged, officials said.

President Ma Ying-jeou visited a 10-year-old girl being treated at Taipei’s Mackay Memorial Hospital and a man at the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Linkou, New Taipei City. Both patients were in stable condition, and the girl was conscious and could hear what visitors told her, the president said.

Ma expressed thanks to the rescue crews, in particular the two Navy officers who saved the girl out of the wreckage. He said he had asked the relevant authorities to do what they could to strengthen air travel safety.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah traveled to Kaohsiung to visit the injured who were convalescing there, reports said.

The tourism sector in Penghu meanwhile, expressed fears that the crash would scare away tourists from visiting the archipelago. There were reports of cancellations, and tourism officials spoke of less business for airlines, hotels, restaurants and bed and breakfasts on the islands.

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