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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 08:14 GMT
China plane 'flew like drunkard'
Wreckage from the plane
Witnesses have spoken of an explosion in mid-air
A Chinese passenger plane that crashed on Sunday was flying erratically moments before it plunged into an icy lake, eyewitnesses said.

China's Xinhua news agency quoted one witness as saying the plane flew "like a staggering drunkard".

Officials have ruled out sabotage as a cause of the crash, though the plane's black box has not yet been found.

All 53 people on board, and one person on the ground, died in the crash, near the city of Baotou in Inner Mongolia.

The Shanghai-bound flight plunged into the lake shortly after take-off, apparently after exploding in mid-air, state-run Xinhua news agency said. It was the first serious air accident in China for more than two years.

The China Eastern plane with 47 passengers and six crew lost contact with the control tower seconds after taking off from the industrial city of Baotou, about 600km (360 miles) west of the capital, Beijing, the news agency said.

21 Nov 2004: Plane plunges into frozen lake near Baotou, Inner Mongolia, killing 54
7 May 2002: 112 people die when plane crashes into sea near north-eastern city of Dalian
15 April 2002: Chinese plane crash near Busan, South Korea, kills 129 people
24 Feb 1999: Plane crashes in Zhejiang province after a mid-air explosion, killing 61

The Canadian-built CRJ-200 jet then plunged into Nanhai Park near the airport at about 0820 local time (0020 GMT), the agency said.

It quoted witnesses as saying that the plane "broke into flaming fragments", destroying a house next to the park and several yachts.

One witness, a Mr Shi, said: "Suddenly the plane disappeared into a mushroom-like cloud. At the centre of the cloud there was a glaring fire. Then the fire and the cloud fell into the park".

A worker in Nanhai Park was also killed, officials said.

Xinhua said one of the dead was a foreigner, believed to be an Indonesian.

It was the deadliest aviation disaster in China since May 2002, when 112 people died after their plane fell into the ocean near the north-eastern city of Dalian.

State media recently highlighted the fact that there had been no serious accidents, despite a surge in air traffic.

Footage from the crash site

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