Story highlights

Taxi driver to dispatch: "A plane flew by and hit me"

Lin Ming-wei's son was blue with no heartbeat when his father spotted his feet in the water

Lin's family is one of a handful of survivors of this week's airplane crash in Taiwan

CNN  — 

As they took their seats on a TransAsia Airways flight that crashed in Taipei on Wednesday, Lin Ming-wei and his young family were looking forward to a vacation on Kinmen, an island in the Taiwan Strait.

Minutes later, Lin was fighting his way out of the plane’s wreckage and searching frantically for his toddler in the shallow, murky waters of the Keelung River.

He searched for three minutes before spotting his son’s feet in the water.

“When he pulled him out, he had no heartbeat,” Lin Ming-wei’s brother, using his English name Chris Lin, told CNN. “His lips were blue. There was no sign of life in him.”

Lin Ming-wei didn’t give up, performing CPR on his son.

“He is my only child. I absolutely have to save his life – I can’t lose him,” the Liberty Times newspaper quoted him as saying.

The 2½-year-old boy made it and was in a hospital Thursday, about to be discharged from the intensive care unit as he battles pneumonia, his uncle said. Chris Lin said that his brother, Lin Ming-wei, suffered some scratches, while his sister-in-law fractured some bones and is recovering well after surgery on her left hand.

“My brother was really grateful for the rescue teams (and) the pilot,” said Chris Lin. “Because of (the pilot’s) heroic act, he was able to save a lot of people – and allow our family to survive.”

Chris Lin refuted earlier claims by local media that the Lin family switched seats before takeoff after a noise made his brother uneasy and it was this hunch that saved the family from death.

He told CNN on Monday that his brother and family switched seats at the check-in desk and not when they were on the plane.

Lucky escape

Chris Lin said his brother told him the plane suddenly dropped after its left engine lost power. After it hit the water, Lin Ming-wei – who was strapped to his seat and upside down – unbuckled himself before helping free his wife, the brother said.

A fire department rescue worker who was one of the first on the scene said the cabin was already chest-deep in water when he entered.

Kinmen is a small island under Taiwan jurisdiction near mainland China.

“Many passengers were tangled up in their seat belts and hung upside down,” the Taipei Times quoted him as saying.

Huang Chin-shun, 72, said he helped save four lives by unclipping safety belts.

“Shortly after taking off, I felt something was not right,” he told CNN affiliate ETTV. “I thought: ‘something’s wrong with the engine,’ because I always take this flight.”

Thirteen people were saved in the initial rescue effort but progress slowed and water had completely filled the fuselage by evening, when a crane lifted it from the water.

Taxi driver: ‘A plane flew by and hit me’

The Lins were not the only ones to have a lucky escape.

As the out-of-control plane spiraled into the river on the outskirts of the island’s capital, it clipped a taxi traveling along an elevated highway.

A taxi was hit by the plane as it clipped an elevated highway.

The driver, 52-year-old Chou Hsi-tung, and his female passenger sustained only minor injuries from shattered fragments of windshield glass.

Photographs showed a yellow Volkswagen with a flattened windshield and engine hood.

After the plane hit, the taxi driver made a shocking report to dispatchers.

“I just brought a passenger up unto Huandong, and as I was getting on (the expressway), a plane flew by and hit me,” he said, according to an audio recording of the call released by taxi company Crown Taxi.

“A remote-controlled model plane?” the dispatcher asked.

“My car is completely wrecked,” Chou replied, going on to explain that it wasn’t a remote-controlled plane, but a manned plane.

“Huh?” the puzzled dispatcher responded. “Are there any casualties?”

The driver described the dire situation: “The whole thing fell into the Keelung River. My passenger can’t get out of the vehicle. My car’s wrecked.”

According to the Taipei Times, Chou’s family didn’t believe him at first when he telephoned home to say: “I’m OK. My car got into a crash. It was hit by an airplane.”

CNN’s Vivian Kam and Mitra Mobasherat in Hong Kong, Shen Lu in Beijing and Greg Botelho and Catherine E. Shoichet in Atlanta contributed to this report.