TransAsia Airways has suffered its second fatal crash in less than 12 months after one of its passenger jets, carrying 58 people, flew into a bridge and fell into a river Wednesday just after takeoff. The incident occurred in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, only seven months after a TransAsia flight crashed during landing in low visibility and stormy weather conditions on an island near the Taiwanese coast in July, causing 48 fatalities.
Prior to that mishap, the air carrier had not had a fatal accident since 2002, when a TransAsia ATR Cargo aircraft crashed into the sea, killing two pilots. Four people were killed in 1995, when one of its cargo aircraft hit a hill. Several other events occurred in the last 20 years, but no fatalities occurred.
TransAsia Airways is the third-largest airline, with a fleet of 23 aircraft covering 23 routes focused around northeast and south Asia. The carrier was Taiwan’s first commercially private airline when it was established in 1951. The company’s fleet consists of 72-60 turboprop aircraft and ATR 72-500 planes. The former is the type of aircraft that went down Wednesday shortly after takeoff on its way to Kinmen, a little island near the Chinese mainland that is under Taiwanese control. TransAsia also has Airbus A330, A321 and A320 jets in service.
TransAsia has been listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange since 2011 and started V Air, a low-budget airline, in 2014 in an attempt to keep up with other regional budget airlines like AirAsia. It has a market capitalization of $243 million and has over 2,000 employees.
Video clips of the ATR 72 turboprop crash were aired by broadcasters and posted online. The clips showed the propjet as it spun on its side while heading toward a bridge spanning the river. In one of the videos, the aircraft quickly fills the frame as a wing contacts the road, striking a vehicle just before falling into the river. Although local media has speculated that the pilot might have made a sharp turn to prevent hitting a nearby residential high-rise area, Taiwanese aviation officials have not verified that fact.
The pilot of the TransAir plane, which was the second craft to crash with fatalities in less than 12 months, made an emergency transmission just after takeoff, according to Taiwanese authorities. Taiwanese broadcasters repetitively played a recording of the aircraft’s final communication with the control tower in which the pilot repeated “Mayday” three times. The recording did not provide any direct evidence as to why the plane was in trouble.
First responders gathered around the submerged plane in rubber dinghies and could be seen removing luggage from an open door in the plane for more than two hours. Over half of the passengers on the flight were Chinese, and Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics authorities said there are 31 confirmed dead, 12 still missing and 15 people who were rescued with injuries. It added that two individuals on the ground were injured.
The AirAsia Airliner turboprop was the second fatal crash of an aircraft suffered by the company in the last 12 months. The aircraft was hoisted from the murky shallow river by rescuers using a massive crane. Survivors were safely brought to shore with rubber rafts or climbed to the riverbank under their own power.
By Gerald Sowell
Photo By Valentin Hintikka – Flickr License