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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
Hope fades in Taiwan crash search
Wreckage from 1993 crash in Hong Kong
A China Airlines plane crashed in Hong Kong in 1993
Officials say there is little hope of finding survivors after a Taiwanese airliner carrying 225 people crashed into the sea on its way to Hong Kong.

The Boeing 747-200 belonging to the national carrier China Airlines disappeared from radar screens near the Taiwanese island of Penghu at 0730 GMT, shortly after leaving the capital Taipei.

Relative of crash victim
One relative collapsed on hearing the news
Ten bodies have been found and up to 100 sighted after the crash of Flight CI 611, Taiwanese officials say.

It was carrying 206 passengers, including three infants, and 19 crew.

"There is almost no chance for survivors," said Chang Kuo-cheng, director of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).

"Given the high altitude when it started plunging into sea, I don't think any person could stand the impact," the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

Military planes, helicopters and vessels have been scouring the area for survivors.

Explosion report

One Taiwanese TV report said a mid-air explosion may have occurred - but this has not been confirmed, and airline officials said no distress signals were recorded.

David Learmount, Operations and Safety Editor of Flight International, said the fact that the pilots had no time to send a signal could point to an explosion.

"On a short range flight such as this the plane would not need any fuel in its central wing fuel tank - the tank between the wings, under the passenger compartment - which would have left it full of fuel vapours," Mr Learmount told BBC News Online.

"It is possible that some kind of spark ignited the vapours and caused the tank to explode, as happened in the case of the TWA 100, a very similar plane to the Boeing 747-200 which was involved here," he added.

Informing relatives

Most of the passengers were Taiwanese according to Wang Cheng-yu, an official with China Airlines.

A helicopter takes off to look for signs of the plane
Helicopters are scouring the area

Also on board were two Singaporeans, 14 people from Hong Kong, Macau or China and one European.

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai said that the route between Taiwan and Hong Kong is often used by people travelling onwards from Hong Kong to mainland China and other destinations.

Safety problems

At Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport, officials issued an announcement for people waiting for friends and relatives on the flight to go to the China Airlines counter.

China Airlines accidents
1999 - MD11 airliner crash lands in Hong Kong, killing three people
1998 - A300-600 airliner crashes near Taipei in fog and rain, killing all 197 on board and at least seven on ground
1994 - A300-600 crashes during approach in Nagoya, Japan, killing 264 people
1989 - 737-200 hits mountain near Hualien, Taiwan, killing 56 people
One man, who gave only his surname Chan, said he had arrived about 1600 (0800 GMT) to pick up a friend, a Hong Kong man studying in Taiwan.

"I'm worried about my friend. I've heard from the radio that the plane has apparently crashed into the sea," he said.

China Airlines said that the Boeing 747-200 was built in 1979 and was the last plane of its kind in the airline's fleet.

Our correspondent says China Airlines has been seeking to improve a poor safety record which has seen several crashes over the past decade, including a major accident at Taipei's international airport in 1998.

The crash of Flight C1611 follows two major accidents in the region involving mainland Chinese airlines during the past month.

The BBC's Kim Barnes
"No survivors have been found"
The BBC's Helen Leavey in Taipei
"The aeroplane disappeared from radar screens very suddenly"
Chris Yates, aviation expert
"We've had an appalling year in terms of safety"
See also:

15 Apr 02 | In Depth
10 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Mar 02 | Country profiles
25 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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