TAIPEI — The death toll from a TransAsia Airways plane that crashed into a Taipei river shortly after taking off has risen to 31, Taiwanese officials said on Thursday, and could rise further with 12 people still missing.
TransAsia Flight GE235, carrying 58 passengers and crew, lurched between buildings, clipped an overpass with one of its wings and crashed upside down into shallow water shortly after taking off from a downtown Taipei airport on Wednesday.
Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said 15 people survived. Sixteen of those killed were from among a group of 31 Chinese tourists, most from the southeastern city of Xiamen, it said. Three Chinese passengers were rescued.
The pilot and co-pilot of the almost-new turboprop ATR 72-600 were among those killed, the CAA said. TransAsia identified the pilot as 42-year-old Liao Chien-tsung.
Both the pilots’ bodies had been recovered, TransAsia said on Thursday as sketchy details of the plane’s final moments began to emerge.
Dramatic pictures captured by a passing motorist showed the plane careening over an overpass, its nose up as its port-side wing struck the roadway just meters from passing cars.
Taiwanese media reported that it appeared Liao had fought desperately to steer his stricken aircraft between apartment blocks and commercial buildings close to Taipei’s Songshan airport before crashing into the river.
The head of Taiwan’s CAA, Lin Tyh-ming, has said Liao had 4,916 flying hours under his belt and the co-pilot 6,922 hours.
Taiwanese media reported that Liao came from a poor family.
The son of two street vendors, he studied hard before passing exams to join Taiwan’s air force. He later flew for China Airlines, Taiwan’s main carrier, before joining TransAsia.
TransAsia’s shares closed down 6.9 percent on Wednesday, its biggest percentage decline since late 2011. The crash was the latest in a string of aviation disasters in Asia in the past 12 months.
Macau’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement on Wednesday the engines of the plane that crashed had been replaced at Macau Airport on April 19 last year, during its delivery flight, “due to engine-related technical issues.”
It said the engines were replaced by TransAsia engineers and the plane left Macau airport two days later.
Lin from Taiwan’s CAA said the aircraft last underwent maintenance on Jan. 26.
The plane was powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW127M engines. Pratt & Whitney is part of United Technologies.
The last communication from one of the pilots was “Mayday Mayday engine flameout,” according to an air traffic control recording on liveatc.net.
A flameout occurs when the fuel supply to the engine is interrupted or when there is faulty combustion, resulting in an engine failure. Twin-engined aircraft, however, are usually able to keep flying even when one engine has failed.
Taiwan officials said on Wednesday the plane’s black box data recorder had been recovered but no information from it had been made available yet.
Television footage overnight showed cranes lifting the broken fuselage from the river after rescuers in rubber boats had pulled survivors from the water.
The plane was bound for the Taiwan island of Kinmen, not far from Xiamen. TransAsia said it would fly members of the Chinese passengers’ families to Taiwan on Wednesday.
Taiwan has had a poor aviation safety record in recent years, including the disintegration of a China Airlines 747 on a flight from Taipei to Hong Kong in 2002, killing 225.
One of TransAsia’s ATR 72-500 planes crashed while trying to land at Penghu Island last July, killing 48 people.
The disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet last March and the downing of a sister plane over Ukraine four months later resulted in the combined loss of 537 lives. The crash of an AirAsia jet bound for Singapore from Indonesia on Dec. 28 killed all 162 people on board.