Why let doomed plane fly in storm? Relatives berate air chiefs over Taiwan crash

Aviation officials say decision to take off for Penghu despite bad weather was in hands of pilot

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 9:30am

Bereaved relatives of passengers killed when a TransAsia Airways plane crashed on Taiwan's resort island of Penghu on Wednesday night have one question: who gave the go-ahead for it to take off in bad weather?

Forty-eight people died when the ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop short-haul plane, carrying 54 passengers and four crew members, ploughed into a village and burst into flames while trying to land. The 10 survivors, seven of whom managed to claw their way out of the wreckage, sustained injuries ranging from serious burns to broken bones.

Video: Investigation underway after 48 killed in Taiwan plane crash

The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) was under mounting criticism yesterday for permitting flight GE222 to take off despite bad weather. Initial findings blamed a failed emergency landing due to poor visibility for the crash.

"Didn't you realise that Penghu was still under the influence of Typhoon Matmo, and why on earth was the plane permitted to fly?" shouted one relative at Taipei's domestic Sungshan airport as he and two other relatives waited to board a flight to Magong in Penghu.

But the administration said the pilot had the final decision on what to do in bad weather.

"The pilot can decide whether to continue the flight or not," said Lee Wan-li, deputy director general of the CAA.

He said the air tower provided all necessary information for the pilot to decide what to do with the flight, adding that the weather conditions were all right when the plane left Kaohsiung for Penghu after a delay of more than one hour.

Lee said the ill-fated plane asked to circle the airport at Penghu twice before losing contact with the air tower. Five locals were injured when the plane ploughed into the village.

"The wind shear effect, or difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the air, could be the cause of the crash when the pilot attempted to make the go-around," said aviation expert Lee Ke-tsung.

He said given that the ATR-72 is relatively small and lacks power when climbing, such a difference could result in the pilot having inadequate time to react during his manoeuvres.

Officials at the Aviation Safety Council (ASC), however, said there could be many reasons for the disaster, and a full investigation was required.

The 10 survivors had been sitting in the left middle and rear sections of the plane, which retired pilot Jao Chih-chiang said explained their remarkable escape. The plane plunged nose-first into the village from a height of about 100 metres.

Video: Rescuers reach Taiwan plane crash scene as relatives gather at local hospitals

Meanwhile, in Penghu, bereaved families jeered Chooi Yee-choong, TransAsia's general manager, when he appeared at a ceremony to mourn the dead.

Relatives criticised the airline for being slow in handling the crash aftermath and claimed it did not show enough respect to the families.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday led a minute of silence in mourning for those killed in the island's deadliest crash in 12 years.

According to the ASC, the airline has suffered nine accidents since 2002. Its fleet of ATR-72s was involved in seven of these.

Additional reporting by Andrea Chen