42 die in China plane crash


Beijing : At least 42 people were killed while 54 miraculously escaped with injuries Tuesday night when a passenger aircraft broke into two and burst into flames amid thick fog at an airport in China, the country’s first major accident in almost six years.

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The plane, which had taken off from Harbin city, crashed 40 minutes later at 9.36 p.m. in Yichun city of Heilongjiang province. The E-190 jet of Henan Airlines was engulfed in a thick blaze moments after it crashed.

Bright orange flames could be spotted from a distance as rescuers rushed to assist the survivors. Shrieks tore through the night sky as stunned survivors stumbled out of the wreckage.

DPA reported that the plane broke into two pieces, throwing passengers out of the aircraft. There was an explosion and fire broke out following the crash landing, about 2,000 metres from the runway.

Eight-year-old Ji Yifan, who survived the horrific crash, said: “Someone dragged me to the emergency exit door and threw me out before I realised what was going on.”

The evacuation slide, which was also on fire, broke just as Ji was sliding down.

“I fell to the ground. Again someone dragged me aside,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Qi Quanjun, who was the captain of the ill-fated flight that crashed Tuesday night, survived with serious injuries.

It appeared that Qi Quanjun, lying on a hospital bed, could understand the questions, but he had difficulties in talking due to severe face injuries, doctors said. He does not have life-threatening conditions.

Xu Zhaojun, an official, said that the captain had spoken with air traffic controllers on the ground.

“He said he could see lights on the runway, and was ready for landing,” said Xu, quoting airport authorities.

Several other survivors recalled the horror.

“I looked out and couldn’t see anything — it was pitch dark and there was no light,” said Xue Xilai, a survivor who was sitting in the 10th row, close to the emergency exit.

Amongst the injured is China’s Vice Minister of Human Resources and Social Security Sun Baoshu, who is in a critical condition.

“He suffered broken bones and injures in the brain and lungs,” Li Jinchang, a doctor who operated on Sun, was quoted as saying.

There had some confusion over the death toll. While initial reports had stated that 43 people were killed, later reports said that the number of dead were 42.

Lindu Airport is located in a forest some nine km away from downtown Yichun, a city with a population of about one million.

Officials in Yichun said 18 officials from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and its provincial branches were also on board the flight. They were heading for a meeting in Yichun.

The cause of the crash is still being probed.

Vice Minister of Civil Aviation Li Jian said it would take a while to publish the result of the investigation.

“It’s hard to make any assumption right now, but we will publish, step by step, what we can rule out.”

The black box was retrieved Wednesday morning.

The plane is owned by Henan Airlines. Henan Airlines flies smaller regional jets, mainly on routes in north and northeast China. Previously known as Kunpeng Airlines, the carrier was relaunched as Henan Airlines earlier this year.

China had maintained a remarkable air travel safety record of about 2,100 days — or 69 months — without accidents before the passenger plane crash in Yichun city Tuesday, statistics from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) show.

More than five years ago, a CRJ-200 jet, owned by China Eastern Airlines, crashed shortly after take-off into a park in Baotou city, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, killing all 53 people on board and two others on the ground.