THE pilot of a China Airlines jumbo jet last night blamed vicious crosswinds for causing the airliner with 296 people on board to overrun the Kai Tak runway and skid into Victoria Harbour. Captain Liu Shou-rong was being interviewed by the company's own investigation team late into the evening, but it was revealed that he had told his bosses that crosswinds whipped up by Severe Tropical Storm Ira were the major factor in the accident. He had remained at Kai Tak to assist an official Civil Aviation Department inquiry. Flight CAL 605 from Taipei touched down at 11.37 am, when the Typhoon Signal Number 3 was in force and Kai Tak was shrouded in fog and being lashed by heavy rain. The Hong Kong general manager for China Airlines, Alex Liu Nai-heng, read a statement saying: ''At the time, the runway was saturated with rainwater and there were strong crosswinds, making the surface very slippery. ''The plane slipped off the runway and . . . fell into the sea.'' Later he said: ''According to the captain, just after he touched down . . . he felt he could not make a complete stop. ''He used the brakes, he used the reverse thrust. He tried his best, but he could not stop the aircraft.'' The pilot had reached the end of the runway and veered left to slow the plane and try to avoid rushing over the runway edge. ''If the plane had carried on . . . it would have been a lot worse,'' Mr Liu said. Captain Liu, 47, was a Taiwanese Air Force veteran and has been flying for China Airlines for 10 years and is now an instructor. Aviation experts said crosswinds could make a plane unsteady in its final approach and could cause speed changes of up to 150 km/h. The last crash at Kai Tak was in 1988, when a mainland airliner skidded off the runway into the nullah, killing seven people. Only 23 people reported injuries in yesterday's accident. A 47-year-old woman and 45-year-old man were admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in fair condition. The others were taken to hospital after clambering down the jet's safety chutes and were released after treatment. The injured and the other 273 passengers and crew were rescued within about 30 minutes of the crash. The first of 12 fire engines, two fire boats and nine ambulances and more than 150 rescuers arrived just one minute from the alarm being raised. The plane had gone in nose-first, and after bobbing on the sea, was turned back towards the runway wall, enabling most people to clamber directly ashore. The others were loaded in police rafts and ferried to the bank. Kai Tak was re-opened 61/2 hours later, after almost 100 flights were delayed, diverted or cancelled. With many hotels booked out, hundreds of travellers were forced to sleep in the departure lounge, insulating themselves with newspapers and cardboard boxes. Firefighters were last night preparing the plane for removal, having already isolated fuel tanks, to allow CAL and government investigators to start work. The plane now lies with its rear passenger portholes under water, its nosecone smashed on the runway and a huge gash under the cockpit. Roughly at right angles to the runway, its wing is resting on a navigation beacon. A huge floating crane from Hong Kong Salvage and Towage Co was being prepared to haul the plane out today in one piece. Newspaper vendor Ng Yuk-wan, who was working just 250 metres from the end of the runway, said she saw the plane roll off the tarmac into the water and feared the pilots might have misjudged its length. ''It was very hard to see so I think maybe they [the pilots] didn't know or see where the end of the runway was,'' she said. However, the company moved quickly to defend Captain Liu's actions, saying both the plane and its crew performed ''faultlessly''. ''The pilot did everything correctly and the plane was very new and everything seemed to work,'' a statement said. When asked if wind shear across the exposed runway was the major factor, the company representative, Mr Liu, said: ''According to the pilot, yes.'' Mr Liu said there was no way of predicting such violent crosswinds and he was happy with the control tower allowing the landing. He believed Kai Tak was still a safe airport. ''We've landed in these conditions many times before,'' he said. Other senior CAL staff said although gusty and wet, the landing conditions were within standard landing limitations. Kai Tak has no system to warn landing pilots of wind shear, despite recommendations calling for better warning equipment after it was partly blamed for the last major incident. New Airport Projects Co-ordination Office deputy director Clinton Leeks told legislators just five months ago that there was little point in developing a warning system for Kai Tak as it would close by 1997 and any development study would take nearly three years for computer development. A CAD spokesman said he was unable to comment on the lack of a windshear system. However, a complex series of radars has been developed by local academics and will be in place at the new airport at Chek Lap Kok. Refusing to comment on the possible cause, CAD deputy director Richard Siegel said: ''We will be going in to every aspect of this flight and its landing at Kai Tak.'' ''It's going to be a painstaking process that could take many months to complete and we will call in help from wherever we think it's needed . . . this crash happened at Kai Tak and so it's our responsibility to investigate it,'' Mr Siegel said. He said interviews with pilot and crew were a ''very early part of the process'' and that the transcript of the in-flight recorder - known as the ''black box'' - would be a ''priority''.