MAGONG: Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways ran an apology on the front pages of five major newspapers Friday, pledging to shoulder the “utmost responsibility” after 48 people died when one of its planes crashed in stormy weather.
It came after grieving relatives confronted airline chairman Vincent Lin as he was paying respects to the dead at a funeral home, and as it emerged that 10-year-old survivor battling burn injuries had been rescued at great risk by two fellow passengers. The domestic flight from Kaohsiung in Taiwan’s southwest was carrying 54 passengers and four crew when it plunged into houses in Magong in the Penghu islands Wednesday, leaving just 10 survivors, some of them badly injured. Two French medical students were among the dead.
“TransAsia and its staff express our deepest condolences for those who died on Flight GE222 and offer our apologies to the relatives and the injured,” it said in a statement covering half the front page of five newspapers. “TransAsia pledges to the deceased, the survivors and their relatives as well as Penghu residents who were injured to shoulder the utmost responsibility and make every effort to deal with the aftermath and provide the best compensation.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou visited 10-year-old Lee Wei-tung, who was rescued by two fellow passengers, themselves also wounded, from the wreckage of the plane. Lee was transferred to a Taipei hospital for treatment and is in stable condition. Ma lauded her rescuers for endangering their lives to save the girl. “The pressing task for the government is to clarify the cause of the incident and give the people an answer ... We will demand relevant authorities to enhance aviation safety measures,” Ma told reporters.
Dozens of workers donning white protective gear were still cleaning up the crash site Friday, disinfecting the area after the bodies of victims were removed and breaking up plane wreckage for removal. “We hope to clean up the site as soon as possible, hopefully in a day or two, so that the villagers would feel at ease,” said Penghu fire chief Hung Yung-peng. So far 34 bodies have been identified while a team of dental experts was expected in Penghu to help with the identification process, official said.
At a funeral home near the crash site, grief-stricken relatives rounded on the chairman Lin, who had flown to Magong early Friday. He was on a business trip in the United States at the time of the crash. “My son was only 27 years old, give me back my son’s life,” a woman wailed, as a silent Lin bowed to her several times. The ATR 72-500 propeller plane was trying to land for the second time after aborting the first attempt in thunder and heavy rain as Typhoon Matmo pounded Taiwan. Five people on the ground were injured in the crash.
Angry relatives have blamed the authorities for the worst air disaster in a decade, questioning why the plane was cleared to fly in bad weather. Taiwanese officials have defended the decision to allow the flight to go ahead. Transport minister Yeh Kuang-shih has said that the meteorology data showed that aviation safety requirements were met when the plane was cleared to fly.
Officials said Thursday that the black boxes — which record cockpit voice and other in-flight data — that had been recovered at the crash site were sent back to Taipei for examination. Initial results are expected in a week as authorities continue to investigate the cause of the crash, but aviation officials said a final result could take up to a year to determine.
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