News Asia-Pacific

Friday 17 November 2017

Two pilots hailed as heroes as plane lands in river

Tom Phillips

The two pilots at the controls of TransAsia Flight GE235 have been hailed as heroes after at least 15 of the 58 passengers on board survived Asia's latest air catastrophe.

The twin-engine turboprop plane, on a flight from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to Kinmen island, lost altitude shortly after take off.

Rescuers pull passengers from the aircraft
Rescuers pull passengers from the aircraft
Rescuers and soldiers remove air plane parts after a TransAsia plane crashed into a river in New Taipei City. Reuters/Pichi Chuang
Rescuers drag airplane parts with boats after a TransAsia plane crashed into a river in New Taipei City. Reuters/Pichi Chuang
Rescuers and soldiers remove airplane parts after a TransAsia plane crashed into a river in New Taipei City. Reuters/Pichi Chuang
An ambulance arrives as rescuers carry out rescue operations after a TransAsia plane crashed into a river in New Taipei City. Reuters/Pichi Chuang
Rescuers carry out a rescue operation after a TransAsia Airways plane crash landed in a river, in New Taipei City. Reuters/Stringer
Policemen control traffic next to the wreckage of a TransAsia Airways plane which hit a motorway before crash landing in a river, in New Taipei City. Reuters/Stringer
Rescuers carry out a rescue operation after a TransAsia Airways plane crash landed in a river, in New Taipei City. Reuters/Stringer
A man walks past next to the wreckage of a TransAsia Airways plane which hit a motorway before crash landing in a river, in New Taipei City. Reuters/Stringer
Emergency personnel carry the body of a passenger extracted from a commercial plane after it crashed in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. The Taiwanese commercial flight with 58 people aboard clipped a bridge shortly after takeoff and crashed into a river in the island's capital of Taipei on Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Stretchers wait on the shoreline of the Keelung River as emergency personnel try to extract passengers from a Taiwanese commercial plane after it crashed in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Emergency personnel try to extract passengers from a commercial plane after it crashed in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Emergency personnel carry the body of a passenger extracted from a commercial plane after it crashed in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
In this image made from Associated Press Television video, a commercial plane lies in river after crashing in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. The Taiwanese commercial flight with 53 passengers aboard clipped a bridge shortly after takeoff and crashed into a river in the island's capital of Taipei on Wednesday morning. (AP Photo)

As the plane fell to the earth, the pilots appear to have steered for the Keelung river to avoid the nearby buildings.

A dramatic video, captured by a camera on a car dashboard, showed the plane spiralling over a road bridge, clipping it with its wing, before plunging into the water.

A taxi was damaged, and the taxi driver said he had simply passed out in fear at the moment of impact.

At least 25 people died in the tragedy, and a two-year-old boy was left fighting for his life.

Read More: Shocking moment plane hits bridge in Tapei killing at least 25 people

However, experts praised the two main pilots on board, Liao Jiangzhong and Liu Zizhong, suggesting their actions might have contributed to the high number of survivors.

"This pilot decided to land in a narrow river without buildings because there is a residential area nearby.

"He did all he could do," said Liao Linghui, a Taiwanese aviation expert to the local SET News, adding that he felt the plane's captain was a hero.

"If the aircraft is coming down, the pilots aim for open spaces where they and the passengers might survive," said David Learmount, from 'Flightglobal' magazine. But he added that it may have been a stroke of luck to land in the river.

"They pulled the nose up to try to haul it over the top of the buildings, but when the aircraft has almost stalled, that would stall the wings completely and instead of going up, you go down more steeply."

Aviation chiefs in Taiwan declined to comment until the results of an investigation, but confirmed that there had been three pilots on board with tens of thousands of flying hours under their belts, that the plane had been serviced only a few days ago, and that the weather on the morning of the flight was "okay".

"They did their best to stop the flight crashing into buildings," said Wang Shangzhi, a commentator in China, from where 31 of the passengers came.

"They decided to let the plane crash into the river, which was extremely brave," Mr Wang added, according to the 'Apple Daily' newspaper.

"We should pray for them sincerely."

Desmond Ross, an aviation security expert, said the plane appeared to have suffered "a loss of power at a critical point, perhaps just after take-off, and the aircraft became difficult to control.

"The video images suggest to me that [the pilot] was in a stall situation with little flight control and it literally fell into the river."

The Flight G E235, an ATR 72-600 turboprop that was less than a year old, took off from Taipei's Songshan airport at 10.53am local time bound for the island of Kinmen off the east coast of China's Fujian province but crashed three minutes later.

In a final message before the plane went down, one of the pilots reportedly said: "Mayday! Mayday! Engine Flame-out!'"

"We are very eager to find out why this happened to such a new aircraft," Peter Chen, TransAsia's chief executive, said.

* Meanwhile, in Dublin last night, Stobart Air, which operates the same aircraft as was involved in the Taiwan crash, said it had been advised of the incident by the airplane manufacturer. Aer Lingus has a franchise agreement with Stobart, which operates services under the Aer Lingus Regional brand.

"In line with industry practice, the aircraft manufacturer has formally notified all operators of this incident," a spokesman said.

"No further information has been disseminated." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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