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Thursday, February 5, 2015, 18:32

18 TransAsia victims from Chinese mainland

By Agencies

 18 TransAsia victims from Chinese mainland
The mangled fuselage of a TransAsia Airways commercial plane is dragged to the river bank after it crashed in Taipei, Taiwan, Feb 4, 2015. (Photo / AP)

TAIPEI - Seventeen of the 32 confirmed deaths in Wednesday's TransAsia Airways plane crash in Taiwan were Chinese mainland residents, according to the local disaster response authority.

The Taiwan Aviation Safety Council said on Thursday that it has invited accident investigators from the Chinese mainland to take part in the accident investigation. A cross-Strait emergency response mechanism has been launched.

The first group of eight family members of mainland passengers and four travel agency staff arrived in Taipei on Thursday morning. Another 16 family members, accompanied by eight travel agency staff will also arrive Thursday.

As of 6 am on Thursday, the crash had left 32 people dead, 15 injured and 11 missing. All the missing passengers are tourists from the Chinese mainland. Three other mainland passengers were injured.

Rescuers operating underwater and in rafts and helicopters are on Thursday scouring the crash site and along the Keelung River as well as its banks. The cockpit and tail of the plane have been hoisted out of the water, while some segments of the fuselage remain submerged.

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman with the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Thursday afternoon that the mainland civil aviation authorities will dispatch investigators.

Investigators from France, producer of the aircraft, and from Canada, producer of the engine, have also been invited.  

Meanwhile, TransAsia decided on Thursday to hand out compensation of NT$200,000 (about $6,356) to each injured victim (including the two in the taxi), and compensation of NT$1.2 million to the family of each identified fatality.

The ATR-72 aircraft plunged into the Keelung River at 10:55 am on Wednesday after its wing clipped a taxi on an elevated freeway, 10 minutes after takeoff. The taxi was carrying a man and a woman.

They pilot said "mayday, mayday, engine flameout" moments before the plane banked sharply and crashed into a river, an aviation official said Thursday, but declined to comment on a possible cause for the accident.

Engine flameout refers to flames being extinguished in the combustion chamber of the engine, so that it shuts down and no longer drives the propeller. Causes of a flameout could include a lack of fuel or being struck by volcanic ash, a bird or some other object. "Mayday" is an international emergency call.

Taipei's mayor hailed the pilot a hero for narrowly avoiding buildings and ditching the stalled aircraft in a river, likely averting a worse disaster.

Flight GE235 was heading for Kinmen from Taipei with 58 passengers on board, including 31 from the Chinese mainland, and five crew. Three of the mainland passengers are known to be children.

The bodies of the captain and two co-pilots have been found, and the plane's two black boxes have been recovered.

Rescue work has been hampered by the murkiness of the Keelung River. Several segments of the plane, including the cockpit, have been raised out of the water.

The mainland passengers were on trips organized by two travel agencies from Xiamen city in Fujian province, the Taiwan tourism authority confirmed.

The plane had been in service since April 2014 and was subject to a routine safety check last month, according to Taipei authorities.

Since the crash, Taiwan's civil aeronautics authority has decided to conduct safety checks on the island's 22 ATR-72 aircraft before clearing them for flight.

Taipei Songshan Airport had canceled 11 local flights, which are all served by ATR-72 aircraft, by 11:45 am on Thursday, according to the airport's website.

TransAsia announced on Thursday that passengers who wanted to cancel their bookings would have their usual commission fees waived.

This is not the first time that an ATR-72 aircraft has crashed in Taiwan. On July 23, 2014, TransAsia Airways flight GE222 crashed on Taiwan's Penghu Island, killing 48 people.

TransAsia Airways, founded in 1951, was Taiwan's first private airline, mainly focusing on short overseas flights.

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