2 die, more than 200 hurt in Hong Kong jet crash
August 22, 1999
From Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy
HONG KONG (CNN) -- Two people were killed and more than 200 were injured Sunday when a China Airlines jet flipped over and burst into flames in Hong Kong.
China Airlines Flight 642, an MD-11 en route from Bangkok to Hong Kong with 315 people on board, was attempting to land in the midst of strong winds whipped up by Tropical Storm Sam.
Passengers and eyewitnesses said the jet lurched sharply as it landed. One wing hit the ground, then the plane flipped over and burst into flames.
"There was thick smoke inside," said one survivor. "Everyone was worried. The lights were out. The plane was upside down. It was very chaotic."
Hong Kong emergency services were on the scene almost immediately.
"Within one minute, the first fire engine arrived on the scene. Within 15 minutes, the fire was put out," said Regina Yip, Hong Kong's secretary for security.
Even with the aircraft on its back, passengers were evacuated with surprising speed. The injured -- some suffering from severe burns -- were taken to nearby hospitals.
The crash occurred as Tropical Storm Sam was battering Hong Kong with winds of more than 100 kph (60 mph). Sources at the airport told CNN there had been problems with wind shear for most of the day.
Before the crash, numerous flights had been canceled, delayed or diverted. But the airport remained open.
Officials refused to speculate on the role the weather might have played in the crash, saying only that the decision to operate in such conditions was up to each airline.
But immediately after the crash, the airport -- a new multibillion dollar facility that opened just over a year ago -- was shut down, stranding thousands of travelers.
This is the latest in a series of fatal accidents involving Taiwan-based China Airlines, including a crash in Taiwan last year that left more than 200 people dead.
With the airline's safety record under fire, China Airlines officials pledged full cooperation with investigators in Hong Kong as they try to determine whether weather, the aircraft, the pilot or a combination of factors brought Flight 642 to its fiery end.
Boeing ends MD-11 output
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