Saturday 17 March 2018

Chinese plane crash: survivors describe escape

Peter Foster

Survivors from a plane crash in northeastern China that killed 42 passengers on Tuesday night have described the terrifying final moments of their flight as it crashed to earth and burst into flames.

“The plane really started to jolt in a scary way - the plane jolted five or six times very strongly. The luggage from the overhead compartments started to fall out," said one man, interviewed in hospital by CCTV, China’s state television.

“After the plane came to a stop, people at the back started to wildly rush toward the front... I was yelling at them to use the emergency exit at the 10th or 11th row, but they kept pushing fiercely forward."

The man said he had tried to open the emergency door but it would not budge, and then seconds later the plane – a Henan Airlines Embraer E-190 on a flight from Harbin to Yichun, a city of 1 million people in the far northeastern province of Heilongjiang - started to fill with smoke.

“It was really hard to breathe. I knew that I had to get out,” said the man, who was not identified, explaining that he crawled out of a hole near the first row of seats.

“As we got out, the fire got bigger and bigger. It must have been the fuel catching fire," he said, adding there had been "some explosions" as the survivors waited for ambulances to arrive.

As dawn broke on Wednesday air crash investigators were seen picking through the burnt-out fuselage of the 100-seat Brazilian-made aircraft which was almost completely destroyed by the fire, with only the tail section remaining intact.

Early reports said that the plane, landing at 10.10pm after a one-hour flight, had overshot the runway while landing in thick fog at Lindun Airport, a local facility servicing the city of Yichun about 100 miles from China’s border with Russia that has only been operational for a year.

China’s state media reported that the aircraft’s “black box” flight data recorder had been recovered and that Embraer, the Brazilian manufacturer who sold five newly build E-190s to Henan Airlines in 2008, had sent a technical team to assist in the inquiry.

The pilot of the aircraft, named as Qi Quanjun, was among the survivors but suffered serious facial injuries and was currently unable to speak, according to doctors.

Although Chinese domestic aviation suffered from poor safety record as it expanded rapidly in the 1990s, safety has improved drastically over the last decade as China introduced a raft of new safety requirements and modernized its air traffic controls systems.

The crash is the first major incident by a domestic Chinese airline since November 2004, when a China Eastern flight plunged into a frozen lake in Baotou, northern China, killing all 53 on board and two on the ground.

A second male survivor interviewed by CCTV, his head bandaged and his nose bloodied, recalled feeling a “big jolt” as the plane came in to land, followed by "big crashes - bam bam bam”.

“Everyone started to try to get out, the luggage was falling everywhere," added the man, who also was not identified.

“I could see fire and flames outside the plane. I was trying to go forward, but the door was not opening. I tried to use my mobile phone to bust out a window, but the window would not break.

“I could hear people saying that the plane had cracked open at the back, so several of us escaped through the small crack.”

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