TAIPEI, Taiwan – A Taiwanese flight with 58 people turned on its side in midair, clipped an elevated roadway and careened into a river Wednesday shortly after takeoff from the island’s capital of Taipei, killing at least 15 people, local media and officials said.
The death toll in the TransAsia Airways flight was expected to rise as rescue crews cleared the mostly sunken fuselage in the Keelung River a couple dozen meters from the shore. Teams of rescuers in rubber rafts clustered around the wreckage.
The ATR 72 prop-jet aircraft was flying on its side, with one wing scraping past Taiwan’s National Freeway No. 1 just seconds before it plunged into the river, local television images showed. It was the airline’s second French-Italian-built ATR 72 to crash in the past year.
Wednesday’s flight 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. Thirty-one passengers were from China, Taiwan’s tourism bureau said. Kinmen’s airport is a common link between Taipei and China’s Fujian province.
Taiwan’s civil aviation authority said 15 people were killed out of 28 pulled from the fuselage and that 30 people were still missing.
Wu Jun-hong, a Taipei Fire Department official who was co-ordinating the rescue, said the missing people 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 just before it crashed into the river, Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS reported.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence said it had sent 165 people and eight boats to the riverside rescue scene, joining 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.
Another ATR 72 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.