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All 225 feared dead in Taiwan air crash

TAIPEI, Taiwan (CNN) -- Taiwan officials said they held out little hope that any of the 225 passengers survived after a China Airlines jetliner crashed Saturday in the Taiwan Strait.

The Boeing 747-200 crashed after taking off from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in Taipei. China Airlines is Taiwan's largest carrier.

Dozens of bodies have been recovered near the Penghu Islands, also known as the Pescadores, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Taiwan, where the 22-year-old plane -- the oldest in the airline's fleet -- went down Saturday afternoon en route to Hong Kong.

A makeshift morgue was set up on one of the islands, and relatives of passengers were being flown there.

The jet was carrying 19 crew members and 206 passengers, including three children, officials said.

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Managers from China Airlines and Taiwanese Premier Yu Shyi-kun said life vests and parts of the Boeing 747 were found near the islands, CNN affiliate TVBS reported.

"Now what we need to do is to concentrate on the rescue effort," Yu said. "As for the investigation to what and how it happened, we would have to wait until later."

Flight CI 611 departed Taipei for Hong Kong shortly after 3 p.m. (3 a.m. EDT) but disappeared from radar screens into the flight, which takes about 80 minutes. There was no distress call before the crash, aviation officials said. The route is one of Asia's busiest, with dozens of flights daily.

Television footage showed bits of paper and other debris in a field near the crash site, fueling speculation that a midair explosion occurred. Taiwan officials discounted that possibility, while China Air officials said the abruptness of the crash led them to doubt mechanical failure was the cause.

Searchers said they saw an oil slick near the plane's last known location. The Taiwan Civil Aviation Authority said the weather was cloudy when the plane took off, but conditions weren't extreme.

U.S. crash investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board planned to depart Sunday from Washington to help with the probe.

China Airlines official Wang Cheng-yu said most of the passengers were Taiwanese but there were two from Singapore, two from Australia, 14 from Hong Kong, Macao or China and one from Europe.

The Taiwanese air carrier has been trying to tackle its safety record after a series of fatal crashes in the 1990s.
The Taiwanese air carrier has been trying to tackle its safety record after a series of fatal crashes in the 1990s.  

A former legislator at the Taiwan parliament and two journalists from the Taiwan United Daily News paper were said to be among the passengers. Nearly 100 passengers were traveling with a tour group.

China Airlines was considered one of the world's most dangerous airlines after a series of crashes in the 1990s. The aviation Web site lists the carrier as having nine fatal accidents since 1970.

In recent years, it has put more emphasis on safety.

"We feel so deeply sorry for this incident," China Airlines general manager David Fei said at a news conference. "Safety is our top priority."

The last known fatal China Airlines accident occurred in 1999 when a passenger jet flipped over and burst into flames during a crash landing in Hong Kong. Three people were killed.

-- CNN Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy contributed to this report.




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