Improve air safety, Ma Ying-jeou demands after deadly Penghu crash
Taiwanese president urges authorities to improve monitoring as TransAsia Airways chief apologises to families of victims
Lawrence Chung in Taipei and Adrian Wan in Penghu
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday ordered transport authorities to improve flight safety, as the head of airline TransAsia Airways apologised to relatives of victims killed when one of its planes crashed on the resort island of Penghu.
Forty-eight people died when the ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop, carrying 54 passengers and four crew members, crashed while trying to land in bad weather and burst into flames. Ten people survived.
Wednesday's crash, Taiwan's deadliest in 12 years, prompted criticism of the aviation authorities and the airline for permitting the plane to fly in bad weather. It crashed in the village of Xixi, 1km from the runway. So far, 36 bodies have been identified.
"All people here are deeply saddened about such an air disaster, the likes of which has not happened for many years. The authorities must take swift action to strengthen flight safety," Ma said. "The Civil Aeronautics Administration must also provide effective measures to uphold aviation safety," he said as he visited a survivor, a 10-year-old girl, at a Taipei hospital.
The girl, identified as Lee Wei-tung, was trapped in her overturned seat by its safety belt. A couple pulled her to safety as they climbed out of the wreckage.
Another girl was not so lucky. Villagers saw her sitting on the nose of the plane. "There was a fire in the broken-up plane and we heard people pounding on the windows screaming for help," the villager was quoted by TVBS-News as saying.
"We saw the girl and told her to jump down, but she was too afraid. Several minutes later the plane exploded," said the villager, who said he was afraid to approach the plane.
The airline's chairman, Vincent Lin, who attended a funeral ceremony in Penghu, apologised to the victims' relatives and promised help.
"We will do all we can to assist the families to tide them over in their difficulties and we apologise for any discrepancy in the handling of the aftermath," he told grieving relatives who had confronted him.
The airline has promised NT$200,000 (HK$51,700) for each injured person and NT$800,000 for families of the deceased. The total amount would top NT$51 million, more than the NT$49 million the airline recorded in first-quarter profits.
Additional reporting by Andrea Chen