‘I closed my eyes and hoped I would be OK’: passengers on planes that turned back before Penghu crash relive terror

Passengers on planes that turned back before Penghu crash describe what conditions were like

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 7:02pm

Passengers on flights that abandoned landing at Taiwan's Magong Airport around the time TransAsia Airways Flight GE222 crashed near the runway say they had never encountered such bad weather while flying.

At least four flights turned back on Wednesday after waiting to land within hours of the crash, according to data provided by aviation authorities.

Tsai Chen-hsien, 38, left Taipei aboard another TransAsia Airways flight at 5.25pm bound for Magong Airport - 90 minutes before the crash. He said he felt lucky his plane returned to the capital after more than an hour of circling the airport in Penghu.

"The weather was changing very quickly. It was not too bad when I got on board, but the captain told us that because of the weather, we had to go around and wait for a good opportunity to land," said the Penghu native who works in Taipei. "He also said there were a couple of flights waiting in line to land.

"While we were waiting up there, we could feel these weren't bouts of ordinary turbulence. The plane was bobbing up and down so strongly and suddenly. Women and children were screaming," Tsai said. "I was prepared for disaster."

Hsieh Li-chen, 40, was on the same flight. The restaurant waitress, also a Penghu native, said the flight was "frightening".

"It was jolting so hard - it was so scary. I closed my eyes and hoped I would be OK," she said.

The control tower at Magong Airport said it received a request from the crashed flight to make a "go-around" at 7.06pm, but the flight disappeared from the radar shortly afterwards.

After aborting an attempt to land, the ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop crashed into Xixi village about 1km from the airport. The plane was carrying 54 passengers and four crew members. Ten people survived.

The crashed plane was scheduled to depart Kaohsiung airport at 4pm, but bad weather caused by Typhoon Matmo delayed the flight until 5.43pm.

The aviation authority said weather was safe for flying when the plane was last in contact.

Visibility at Magong airport was about 1.6km, and winds were 20km/h. The cloud was about 100 metres. Conditions were challenging but within the prescribed safety limits, the authority said.

More than 200 flights at Taiwanese airports were cancelled earlier in the day.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration said nine flights from the main island landed smoothly at Penghu from 2pm, including a Uni Air flight that touched down at 6.47pm, 19 minutes before Flight GE222 disappeared from the radar.

Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council is leading the crash investigation, with help from the French manufacturer of the TransAsia plane, Avions de Transport Regional, and experts from France and Canada. They arrived in Penghu on Saturday.

Taiwan's Ministry of Justice and the National Police Agency identified the last of the victims late on Saturday.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has ordered transport authorities to improve flight safety, while the head of TransAsia Airways has met relatives of the victims.

The airline has promised NT$200,000 (HK$51,700) for each injured person and NT$800,000 for families of the dead.