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Taiwan Plane Crashes Into River After Takeoff, Killing 31

By Yu-Tzu Chiu, dpa (TNS)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A Taiwanese passenger plane hurtled into a river after hitting a bridge shortly after taking off from a Taipei airport on Wednesday, killing at least 31 people.

TransAsia Airways flight 235 with 53 passengers and five crew members on board was en route from Songshan Airport to Kinmen Island when it crashed after takeoff at 10:52 a.m. (0252 GMT), according to the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

The twin-engine ATR 72 turboprop avoided the tall buildings of Taipei’s Nangang district, but its wing hit a bridge and it plunged into the river, a dramatic video posted online from a car’s dashcam showed.

By late Wednesday, 40 people on the flight had been accounted for, the aviation authority said. Fifteen people injured were hospitalized, while 12 people remained missing.

The driver of a taxi, which was struck by the plane’s wing, and a passenger inside were also hospitalized.

Rescuers hoisted the wreckage from the Keelung River with cranes.

TransAsia Airways chief executive officer Peter Chen apologized to the public. He said there were 31 Chinese tourists and 22 Taiwanese passengers on board.

Taiwan’s minister for the Mainland Affairs Council, a government body that deals with the Beijing authorities, said it would offer assistance to the family members of the affected Chinese tourists.

According to the state-run Central News Agency, China’s equivalent Taiwan Affairs Office will send a team to the island as soon as possible.

The cause of the crash was still unknown. Local media reported that analysts suspected that one of the engines lost power; the plane failed to gain altitude after takeoff.

TransAsia Airways said the plane was the latest ATR-72-600 type craft and the engines were new. Its most recent safety check was conducted Jan. 26.

Aviation authority director Lin Chih-ming said the plane was the same type as TransAsia Airways flight GE222 that crashed in Penghu in July 2014, killing 48 of the 59 people on board.

Photo: Rescuers carry out rescue operation after a plane plunged into a river in Taipei, southeast China’s Taiwan, Feb. 4, 2015. A Taiwan TransAsia Airways plane crashed into a Taipei river on Wednesday morning, killing at least 21 people. Flight ATR-72, which was headed for Kinmen from Taipei, had 58 people on board, including 31 passengers from the Chinese mainland. It crash landed in the Keelung River after it clipped an elevated motorway with its wing. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua/ZUMA Press/TNS)

This story has been updated

At Least 26 Dead In Taiwan Gas Explosions

By Yu-Tzu Chiu, dpa

TAIPEI, Taiwan — At least 26 people were killed and some 270 injured in several explosions caused by gas leaks in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, local authorities said Friday.

Four firefighters were among the dead. They had been called to the scene late on Thursday after the underground explosions cratered large boulevards and rendered streets impassable by ambulances.

The explosions caused houses to collapse and cars to overturn along six kilometers of road, local media reported.

“Based on our preliminary investigation, the gases spilled include propene,” Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch told a news conference in Taipei, referring to a highly flammable, nearly odorless petrochemical that runs through an underground pipeline in the city.

Chang said the source of the gas, a by-product in the processing of fossil fuels, had been cut off. Kaohsiung is one of Taiwan’s centers of petrochemical production.

Thousands of emergency workers and soldiers were called to help with the rescue effort early Friday. Local TV showed residents joining firefighters Friday in the search for possible survivors.
More than 12,000 families lost their electricity supply. Natural gas lines connecting 23,000 household users were also cut, Kaohsiung’s local government said.

Some residents interviewed by local broadcasters expressed their terror in the wake of the explosions, saying that the resultant chaos had felt like a war.

More than 1,000 residents in the affected area have been evacuated to schools nearby, according to the local government. Several people were reported missing, including city officials who arrived at the scene late Thursday.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies had pipelines in Chian-Chen district where the explosion occurred. The district contains both factories and residential buildings.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah arrived in Kaohsiung Friday afternoon, expressing his condolences to affected residents.

Residents complained about the city’s slow response to the disaster. A resident interviewed by TVBS said that he had reported a gas smell to the police three hours before the explosions. “But none of them took action to cut off the pipes. Why not?” he said.

Jiang ordered that, beginning Aug. 5, flags in Taiwan would fly at half-mast for three days after the July 31 Kaohsiung explosions and the plane crash on July 23 on Penghu Island.

President Ma Ying-jeou also expressed his condolences to the victims’ families and said Friday that pipes used by petrochemical plants under all urban areas in Taiwan would be checked.

The state-run Central News Agency reported Friday that three major underground pipes in Chian-Chen district, where the explosion occurred, are managed by three companies.

CPC Corporation vice president Chang Ray-chung said a pipe leading to its Kaohsiung plant, which is an integrated oil refining and petrochemical production facility, remained normal Friday.
The other two pipelines are managed by LCY Chemical Corp and China Petrochemical Development Corporation. Both denied any involvement in the blasts, local media reported.

LCY Chemical Corp, which makes petrochemical products, denied accusations of poor management of its propene pipes Friday. Local newspapers reported there was something wrong on Thursday during the transmission of propene from China General Terminal & Distribution Corporation to LCY.

LCY spokeswoman Abby Pan told a news conference Friday afternoon that the pipes on the scene of the explosions are larger than LCY’s. “Those are large diameter pipes, whose diameter is 8 inches (20 centimetres). The diameter of our pipes is 4 inches,” she said.

Kaohsiung-based environmental groups Friday urged the government to make public the map of all the underground pipelines built by petrochemical companies.

“The government should increase its capacity to deal with emergencies of chemical accidents. The city should stop setting up more petrochemical companies. Don’t risk our lives,” Lee Ken-cheng of Citizen of the Earth Taiwan told a news conference.

AFP Photo/Sam Yeh

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