[Muzi Lateline News (lateline.muzi.net):
8/22/99] HONG KONG - A China Airlines jet
burst into flames, flipped upside down and slid down the runway at Hong Kong's new airport
Sunday while trying to land in a tropical storm, killing two people and injuring at least 206,
The jet's right wing dipped
and struck the runway, breaking off as the airplane caught fire,
officials told reporters. Witnesses said the jet was ablaze before it hit the ground - an account
disputed by Hong Kong officials and China Airlines.
Flight CI642 from Bangkok,
Thailand, was thrown off balance by ''an overly hard side wind''
as the pilot tried to land the MD-11 jet during Tropical Storm Sam, said Scott Shih, a
spokesman for China Airlines at the carrier's headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan.
After the crash, the plane's
body was intact and the landing gear pointed up into the night sky
under huge spotlights set up by rescuers.
Passenger Joemy Tam described
a harrowing landing in the storm, which had earlier limited
operations at Chek Lap Kok airport.
''The airplane tried to
lift up, but somehow it couldn't,'' Tam told Radio Hong Kong. ''On the
right-hand side, the wing hit the ground and I saw the explosion, the fire, coming all the way
from the front of the plane to the rear.''
Passengers found themselves
dangling in the air, strapped into seats that had been turned
upside down. Tam said he freed himself, then helped the person next to him get loose.
Stunned passengers, some of them burned, were screaming as they made their way out onto
a runway drenched with jet fuel.
''I saw two ladies lying on the floor, actually lying on the ceiling,'' Tam said.
The victims were a Portuguese
woman and a Taiwanese man, according to China Airlines
vice president Chang Liang-hsi in Taipei. An official in Hong Kong said 101 of the 315
passengers and crew were uninjured. Four Americans were on the plane.
Taiwanese aviation officials
said the cockpit crew had originally decided to fly straight from
Bangkok to Taipei, skipping a scheduled stop in Hong Kong because of the storm.
But as the plane flew
nearer to Hong Kong, the winds seemed calm enough to land, the
officials said, quoting an account from the co-pilot, Liu Cheng-hsi.
Liu said the plane's right
wing dipped about 15 degrees as the airplane approached the
runway and was hit by a side wind, but the pilot, C.A. Lettich, did not alter his course and
the wing soon dipped a second time, striking the runway and catching fire.
Witnesses at the airport said the jet appeared to be in trouble before it touched down.
''I saw the plane, like
a fireball, coming down,'' said Toshi Hoshino, a businessman from
Osaka, Japan, who was changing airplanes in Hong Kong. ''The right wing hit the ground
first. The left side of the body then followed.''
Hong Kong officials said
the airport was kept open during the tropical storm in accordance
with international aviation standards.
''The decision to land
or not to land lies with the airline,'' said Albert Lam, director of Hong
Kong's Civil Aviation Department.
Firefighters had the blaze
under control within about five to 10 minutes, said one witness, an
American businessman who would not give his name. He said high winds whipped the
Shih, the China Airlines
spokesman, said the crash occurred at 6:40 p.m. and that everyone
aboard had been evacuated by 7:30 p.m.
It was the worst incident
at Chek Lap Kok since the $9 billion airport was opened in July
1998. In 1993, a China Airlines Boeing 747 veered off a runway and into the sea at Hong
Kong's old Kai Tak airport, injuring 22 people.
Critics have attacked
cronyism and a lack of accountability rooted in China Airline's complex
management and ownership structure. Several fatal accidents have hurt the company's
A China Airlines A300
Airbus crashed as it tried to land at Taipei's airport in February 1998,
killing 202 on board and on the ground. The following month, a SAAB 340 crashed into the
sea on a domestic flight operated by Formosa Airlines, a subsidiary of China Airlines, killing
all 13 passengers and crew.
Those crashes came as
China Airlines was trying to improve its performance after a spate of
accidents culminating in a 1994 crash in Nagoya, Japan, that killed 264 people.
''We've put a lot into
our safety,'' said Chang, the vice president. ''We had a lot of
confidence. This is really unfortunate.''
By David Lawder
HONG KONG, Aug 22
(Reuters) - A Taiwanese airliner crashed in
flames and flipped upside down at Hong Kong airport on Sunday but all
but two of the 315 passengers and crew survived.
Some hung for two
hours strapped in their seats before being rescued
from the overturned China Airlines jetliner. Officials said at least 206 of
them were injured.
"We are fortunate
that notwithstanding the seriousness of the accident,
there were no more than two fatalities." Regina Ip, Hong Kong secretary
for security, told reporters.
Fire Chief John
Tsang said most of the passengers survived, because
the plane was relatively undamaged and the fire in one engine was put
out within 15 minutes.
"The aircraft is
still quite intact, but the undercarriage was broken,
shattered and also after the overturn one of the wings was cracked," he
The Boeing MD-11
tri-jet -- China Airlines flight CI642 from Bangkok --
scraped a wing on the runway as it landed at Chek Lap Kok airport in a
tropical storm, causing an engine to burst into flames and flipping the
plane upside down.
It came to a rest
belly up with its landing gear sticking up into the air on
the airport's southern runway at about 6:45 p.m. local time (1045 GMT).
China Airlines spokesman
Shi Ping Wang told a news conference in
Taipei the plane was apparently caught by a sudden wind gust on its
landing approach, causing the right wing to scrape the ground.
Hong Kong director
of civil aviation Albert Lam denied earlier reports that
the plane's pilots had radioed air traffic controllers to report a cabin fire
and request an emergency landing. He said controllers saw the fireball
and immediately alerted emergency services.
"We will carry out
a thorough investigation. Any speculation on the
cause is premature at this stage," he said when asked if wind shear
may have contributed to the accident.
The plane made its
landing approach as typhoon Sam lashed the
territory, disrupting other flight schedules and causing ferries and buses
to be halted. Hong Kong had hoisted its No. 8 cyclone warning signal,
which indicates winds with mean speeds of 63 to 117 km (39 to 73
miles) were expected.
Asked if the typhoon
was a factor, Lam said other flights had landed
with no problems.
He said the airport
is normally kept open when the No. 8 cyclone signal
is hoisted. Air traffic controllers had given all necessary weather
information to the China Airlines pilots and it was up to them to decide
whether or not to land.
The typhoon was
weakening at the time of the crash and had been
downgraded to a severe tropical storm, but the No. 8 warning was still in
The plane carried
the markings of Mandarin Airlines, a wholly owned
subsidiary of China Airlines that shares the CI flight code.
A spokesman at one
of six hospitals accepting injured said 40 people
aged between five and 81 years had been admitted, with most suffering
burns. One had burns covering about 50 percent of the body.
One passenger who
survived the incident told reporters there was a
heavy impact upon landing and he saw the right wingtip scrape the
runway and the right under-wing engine burst into flames.
He said he was among
the last group of passengers to leave the aircraft
and helped to release passengers who were hanging upside down by
their seat belts after the plane came to a rest.
"I had to release
a few people who were hanging upside down after the
plane stopped. Everyone was very scared and were going around
looking for their relatives."
"I saw a huge fireball
and heard a loud boom," one eyewitness who had
disembarked another flight at the airport told reporters.
Hong Kong International
Airport was closed to all air traffic following the
incident. The airport railway to Hong Kong's Central business district
also was shut down.
Hong Kong's multi-billion
dollar, dual-runway airport at Chek Lap Kok
was opened in July last year, replacing the cramped Kai Tak Airport in
have long voiced concerns about the possibility of wind
shear at Chek Lap Kok, which sits in the lee of sharp peaks on adjacent
"In certain conditions,
when the wind is coming in from the other side of
Lantau and hitting that ridge, you have currents going over the ridge and
down towards Chek Lap Kok," Jim Eckes, aviation consultant at
Indoswiss Ltd said on Sunday.
China Airlines has
had two major crashes in the past five years, both
Airbus A300-600R jetliners. One crashed in Taipei in February 1998,
killing 202 in Taiwan's worst-ever air disaster. The other crash, in 1994,
killed 264 people in Japan.
© 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.