TransAsia Airways flight Crashes into Keelung River

Rescue personell recover the fuselage of TransAsia Airways GE235, which crashed into the Keelung River Feb. 5, killing 43 and injuring 15. Photo: CNA

On February 4, TransAsia Airways flight GE235 crashed into the Keelung River just after takeoff, killing 43 and injuring 15.

The Airbus ATR-72-600 plane carrying 53 passengers – 37 of them Chinese tourists – and five cabin crew took off from Songshan Airport in the heart of Taipei at 10:52 a.m. bound for the offshore island of Kinmen. But it quickly ran into trouble, with the pilot calling in a “Mayday” emergency alert less than two minutes into the flight. At less than 500 meters in elevation the plane began a rapid descent that the pilot managed to direct between buildings and – with the aircraft tilted on its side – just over the Nanhu Bridge, where it clipped a taxi before crashing into the Keelung River. The dramatic scene was captured on a motorist’s dash cam and quickly made international headlines.

The incident was the second major crash for TransAsia Airways in less than a year. Last summer, 48 people were killed when a TransAsia flight crash-landed in a residential neighborhood near Penghu’s Magong Airport during a typhoon.

Preliminary information gleaned from “black box” flight recorders indicates that human error may have been a significant factor the crash. The pilots observed engine failure in the No. 2 engine on the left side of the craft, but apparently mistakenly turned off engine No. 1 on the right side, in effect completely disabling the plane. The pilots attempted to restart engine No. 1 but were unable to gain the necessary lift and ultimately lost control. A representative of the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation confirmed that the Airbus ATR-72-600 is capable of operating with a single engine, even during takeoff.

TransAsia Airway’s stock fell sharply in the aftermath, and the company announced compensation of NT$14.9 million (US$473,000) per passenger to the victims’ families.

At the recommendation of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, TransAsia began retesting its remaining pilots who operate the ATR-72-600, grounding those who fail and putting them through retraining. The crash in the heart of Taipei also renewed calls to move Songshan Airport outside of city limits.