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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Plane crashes in typhoon

Some passengers were trapped for hours in the wreckage

A China Airlines jet has crash landed at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport during a tropical storm - killing two people and injuring about 200 of the 315 on board.

China Airlines said about 20 of those on board were seriously injured when the plane crashed and flipped over on the runway.

Witnesses said the jet, en route from Bangkok to Taipei, caught fire as it was trying to land during a tropical storm.

The BBC's Claire Doole: "Airport officials defended safety measures"
Onlooker Toshi Hoshino told the Associated Press news agency: "I saw the plane, like a fireball coming down.

"The right wing hit the ground first. The left side of the body then followed."

'Kiss of death'

Passenger David MacDonell described a harrowing landing in the storm, which had hindered operations at Chek Lap Kok earlier in the day.

"At about 100 metres (300ft) from the runway, people at the back started clapping. And I thought it was the kiss of death, and it was," he said.

[ image:  ]
Scott Shih, a spokesman for China Airlines at its Taipei headquarters, said the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 was thrown off balance by "an overly hard side wind" as the pilot tried to land during Tropical Storm Sam.

Hong Kong's Secretary for Security Regina Ip said a fire engine was at the scene of the burning plane within one minute of it coming to a halt on the runway. She said the blaze was extinguished within 15 minutes.

Rescuers were battling heavy winds and rains to try to free some passengers who were still trapped on board.

The BBC's Matt Frei: "This is the first major incident since the airport opened"
Most of the passengers were said to be Thai citizens, while about 80 Portuguese were also said to have been on board on Flight CI642.

At least 65 people were reportedly taken to hospitals in Hong Kong.

First major incident

Although many people were injured, some of them critically, officials said passengers were extremely lucky.

The BBC's Matt Frei in Hong Kong says the typhoon that was blamed for the accident may have also saved lives, since the torrential rain may have helped to put out the flames.

However it remains unclear why the aircraft attempted a landing when at least 20 other planes were re-routed, cancelled or delayed because of Tropical Storm Sam.

It is the first major incident at Chek Lap Kok since the airport opened in July 1998.

The airport has been closed and all incoming flights have been diverted to other Asian destinations.

China Airlines is still reeling from a crash in February 1998 when an Airbus 300 ploughed into a row of houses near Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek airport, killing all 196 people on board and six on the ground.

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