Foreign experts inspect Taiwan plane crash site


International experts were examining the site of the fatal TransAsia Airways crash in Taiwan on Saturday as new evidence surfaced that the plane may have collided with nearby trees before plunging to the ground.

Seven French and one Canadian expert representing France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, the French-Italian aircraft maker ATR as well as aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney Canada arrived in Taiwan late Friday to help investigate the crash that killed 48 people.

One expert stayed in Taipei to help examine the black boxes — which record cockpit voice and other in-flight data — while the rest flew to Magong earlier Saturday to examine the wreckage that was moved to an air force base and inspect the crash site, officials said.

“ATR manufactured the plane and they know it the best, the structural engineer and technical specialists will provide us the information needed for the investigation,” said Thomas Wang, director of Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council.

TransAsia Airways Flight GE222 carrying 54 passengers and four crew plunged into houses near the airport in Magong in the Penghu islands Wednesday, leaving just 10 survivors, some of them badly injured. Two French medical students were among the dead.

The ATR 72-500 propeller plane was attempting to land for the second time after aborting the first attempt during thunder and heavy rain as Typhoon Matmo pounded Taiwan. It was on a domestic flight.

Taiwanese television footage on Saturday showed fragments of the wreckage being removed by local workers from woods located a few hundred meters (feet) from the crash site. The foreign experts were also seen inspecting the woods and the crash site.

Local media speculated the pilot might have tried to pull the plane up over the treetops after skimming them before the fatal crash.

Wang confirmed that pieces of wreckage were found in the wooded area but said it was too early to determine whether the plane had impacted the trees, adding the information contained in the black boxes would give a clearer picture when it was released in the coming week.

Angry relatives have blamed the authorities and TransAsia for the worst air disaster in a decade in Taiwan, questioning why the plane was cleared to fly in stormy weather. Some vented their anger at Penghu county chief Wang Chien-fa on Saturday, as a man confronted Wang in front of TV cameras for not doing enough to assist the relatives.

The airline ran an apology on the front pages of five major newspapers Friday, pledging to shoulder the “utmost responsibility” while making every effort to deal with the aftermath and provide the best compensation. Taiwanese officials have defended the decision to allow the flight to go ahead, saying the meteorology data showed that aviation safety requirements were met when the plane was cleared to fly.

So far 46 victims were identified, including the two French nationals, while DNA samples of the others were collected to help with the identification.