February 17, 1998 in Nation/World

Jetliner Crash Claims All Aboard China Airlines Airbus Clips Houses Short Of Taipei Airport

Christopher Bodeen Associated Press

A China Airlines Airbus A-300 jetliner returning from the holiday resort of Bali crashed short of Taipei’s airport Monday in a night fog, clipping houses and cars before bursting into flames.

An official on the scene said all 196 passengers and crew on the plane were dead. In addition, the official Central News Agency said nine people, including a 2-month-old baby, were killed on the ground.

Eyewitnesses said the plane hit the ground in a semirural area several hundred yards short of the runway at Chiang Kai-shek Airport, which is located about 24 miles west of Taipei. It ripped off the tops of several two-story houses along a road, slammed into a rice paddy and erupted in flames.

“It came down … I heard a loud explosion and a fireball, and then I thought the chances for any survivors were slim,” said a nut vendor who identified himself only as Mr. Yang.

It was unclear whether the plane hit the ground before clipping the houses, or whether it hit them just before it crashed and exploded.

Yang said firefighters arrived quickly and put out the fire in 15 minutes. Police sealed off the area.

Shih Mau-ling, the district’s chief prosecutor, said at the crash site that there were no survivors among the 182 passengers and 14 crew. Airline officials said four Americans were on board, but there was no immediate confirmation of that.

Airport officials said two flight data recorders were recovered from the site and were being analyzed to help determine the cause of the crash.

Bodies were found in pieces, many charred beyond recognition. TV footage showed firefighters trying to put out flames in windows and doors of a building, and piles of wreckage.

Hours after the crash - with the smell of jet fuel and burning rubber still strong - firemen and rescuers made a final search through the wreckage. Searchlights illuminated a life raft wrapped around a tree stump and parts of fuselage, yellow insulation, seats and clumps of rubber were spread amid clods of dirt.

Tsai Tuei, director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, resigned to take moral responsibility for the crash, which was the worst in the airport’s history.

The twin-engine Airbus crashed while attempting to land on a second approach at about 8 p.m. (4 a.m. PST) at the airport’s northern runway, China Airlines reported.

Among the passengers on flight CI-676 were Sheu Yuan-dong, governor of Taiwan’s Central Bank, his wife, and four other finance officials returning from a conference in Bali. They included Chen Huang, head of the bank’s Department of Foreign Exchange, and Chien Chi-min, head of the Department of Economic Research.

Most of the passengers were Taiwanese families who had been on holiday on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Heavy fog was reported around the airport throughout the afternoon and evening, and a light rain was falling at the time of the crash.

The plane had been asked to make a second approach due to poor visibility, said Hamilton Liu, a China Airlines spokesman. Earlier, the Civil Aeronautics Administration had said the visibility was reported to be adequate.

In 1994, a China Airlines A300-600R exploded and burned during an aborted landing in Nagoya, Japan, killing 264 people. That was Japan’s second-worst air crash.

Japanese investigators said the crash occurred as the plane was in an improper mode for landing and the inexperienced co-pilot tried to compensate by battling with the computerized controls.

The airline has had four other crashes since 1986, with a total of 72 dead. After the 1994 Nagoya crash, it embarked on an extensive safety program that included pilot retraining.

The airline is based in Taipei. Airbus Industrie, based in Toulouse, France, said the plane had been delivered to China Airlines in December 1990.

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