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Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 02:40 GMT 03:40 UK
Relatives fly to Taiwan crash site
Grieving relatives on board a plane flying to the crash site
Most of the passengers and crew were Taiwanese
Relatives of those who died when a China Airlines flight crashed into the sea off western Taiwan have been flown to the scene of the disaster.

The Boeing 747 disappeared from radar screens near the Taiwanese island of Penghu on Saturday, about 45 minutes after leaving the capital Taipei en route to Hong Kong.

None of the 225 passengers and crew on the plane, which was bound for Hong Kong, are thought to have survived.

Rescue workers on Penghu island
So far only bodies and debris from the plane have been found
So far about 30 bodies have been recovered and up to 100 sighted after the crash, Taiwanese officials say.

The relatives of the victims, most of whom came from Taiwan, are expected to help with the identification process.

Three special flights carrying relatives flew from Taipei to Penghu on Saturday evening. Two more were due to make the same trip on Sunday morning.

Military planes, helicopters and vessels have been scouring the crash area for survivors, but it is thought that the force of the impact would have been too great for anyone to survive.

"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 the sea, I don't think any person could stand the impact."

Items from the plane, including lifejackets, a cabin door and a China Airlines in-flight magazine, have been found as far away as Changhua in central Taiwan.

Poor safety record

One Taiwanese television report said a mid-air explosion might have occurred - but this has not been confirmed.

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
The BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai says China Airlines - Taiwan's national carrier - 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.

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

It was reportedly its last flight for China Airlines, as it had been sold to a Thai carrier.

Relatives began gathering at Taipei's international and domestic airports shortly after news of the crash broke.

Many argued with airline officials.

Ibrahim El-hinn, who is married to a Taiwanese woman, said 11 members of his wife's family were on board the flight.

"Why did they put an older plane in service?" he asked. "Did they want people to die?"

The crash of Flight CI 1611 follows two major accidents in the region involving mainland Chinese airlines during the past month.

The BBC's Michael Bristow
"So far around 30 bodies have been collected and taken to a makeshift morgue"
Chris Yates, aviation expert
"We've had an appalling year in terms of safety"
See also:

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