TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A Taiwanese flight with 58 people aboard went sideways, clipped an elevated roadway and careened into a river Wednesday shortly after takeoff from the island’s capital of Taipei, killing at least 12 people, local media and officials said.
Rescue crews in rubber rafts clustered around an exposed area of the mostly sunken fuselage, which was on its side in the Keelung River and missing a wing a couple dozen meters (yards) from the shore. They feared many of the passengers and crew members of the TransAsia Airways flight remained trapped inside.
The ATR-72-600 prop-jet aircraft was flying on its side, with one wing scraping past Taiwan’s busy National Freeway No. 1 just seconds before it plunged into the river, local television images showed. It had taken off from Taipei’s downtown Sungshan Airport en route to the outlying Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands.
Civil aviation officials said the flight took off at 10:53 a.m. and lost contact with controllers two minutes later. Many passengers were from China, Taiwanese and Chinese state media reported. Kinmen’s airport is a common link between Taipei and China’s Fujian province.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency said 12 people were killed. Taiwan’s tourism bureau said 31 of the passengers were from mainland China.
Wu Jun-Hong, a Taipei Fire Department official who was coordinating the rescue, said the victims were among 27 people pulled from the plane. The 31 people who remained unaccounted for either were still in the fuselage or had been pulled downriver, he said.
“At the moment, things don’t look too optimistic,” Wu told reporters at the scene. “Those in the front of the plane are likely to have lost their lives.”
Rescuers were pulling luggage from an open plane door to clear the fuselage, and Wu said they planned to build a pontoon bridge to facilitate those efforts.
The plane’s wing also hit a taxi, the driver of which was injured, on the freeway as it flew into the river, Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS reported.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it had sent 165 people and eight boats to the riverside rescue scene, joining local fire department rescue crews.
A TransAsia media office declined comment on possible reasons for the crash, deferring to a news conference scheduled for later on Wednesday. Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration also was also unable to discuss possible causes of the crash.
A plane operated by the same Taipei-based airline crashed in the outlying Taiwan-controlled islands of Penghu last July 23, killing 48 at the end of a typhoon for reasons that are still under investigation.
Wednesday’s crash is likely to further hurt the reputation of the 64-year-old airline along with that of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.
AP writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed.