NEW: Death toll rises to 32, official news agency reports; 11 people still missing
Mayday call came from TransAsia Airways Flight GE235, a recording appears to reveal
Taiwan has ordered checks on all ATR 72 aircraft operated by local carriers
Someone in the cockpit of a TransAsia Airways flight apparently made a mayday call because of an engine problem shortly before the plane crashed Wednesday into a river in Taiwan, killing at least 32 people.
A male voice on a recording of radio conversations between air traffic control and TransAsia Airways Flight GE235 says, “GE235. Mayday, mayday. Engine flameout.” The recording was verified by LiveATC.net, which records air traffic control feeds around the world.
It is unclear whether the man was a pilot.
The passenger plane clipped a bridge and plunged into a river in Taipei, according to the island’s official news agency, CNA.
Rescuers scrambled to pull survivors from the submerged wreck of the ATR 72 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, which went down shortly after takeoff from the Taiwanese capital.
Fifty-eight people were aboard the flight when it veered out of control as it flew to Kinmen, off the coast of the Chinese province of Fujian.
The toll, according to CNA: 32 people confirmed dead and 11 missing. The search and rescue effort continues.
Many of the 15 people who survived the crash were injured. Two other people, who were in a car on the bridge that was clipped by the wing of the plane as it went down, also were hurt.
The plane’s cockpit crew were among those confirmed dead, authorities said.
Crews have recovered the aircraft’s “black boxes,” CNA reported.
The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, which is designed to retain all sounds on a plane’s flight deck, were found in the tail of the plane, Ang Xingzhong, the executive director of Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council, told the news agency.
The flight data recorder stores a vast amount of information about the aircraft’s performance, including air speed and cabin pressure.
Former ATR pilot: Plane likely gliding
A pilot who once flew ATRs for American Airlines said it looked like the plane was gliding when dash-cam video from several angles captured the moments of the crash.
Stephen Fredrick pointed to the position of the nose, slightly down, and the wings, level.
“As it gets closer to the highway, there’s a change in the pitch attitude (position of the plane) and it appears the aircraft (left) wing stalls, or loses lift. That’s what causes the dramatic turn to the left,” Fredrick told CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “It’s what causes the aircraft to come down more forcefully and crash.”
The plane was 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the airport, Fredrick said, at a point where the pilots should have been able to continue with the flight even if one engine failed. The distance indicated to him that the engine problem occurred well after takeoff.
“It appears that it could have had a single-engine flameout, it could have had a dual-engine flameout,” he said. “Those are things we’re going to learn.”
The left propeller was also set to a position for flight, rather than to a position for an inoperable engine, he said.
That could have caused drag and prompted the left wing to stall, CNN aviation analyst David Soucie said. Pilots normally before a flight will turn on a system that automatically adjusts the position of the propellers, the experts said.
Plane clips highway
A dash-cam video captured the moment the plane hurtled out of control above the city’s Nanhu Bridge before crashing into the Keelung River, just after 11 a.m. local time (10 p.m. ET).
CNA reported that the pilot appeared to try to control the plane as it descended, but the aircraft’s wing grazed the overpass, clipping a passing taxi.
The two people in the taxi were injured but are in stable condition after being taken to a hospital, CNA said.
The news agency reported on the efforts of one father who was injured in the crash. The man, who was not identified, was aboard with his wife and 1-year-old baby. The father, upon learning that his wife and child had been sent to separate hospitals, rode a bike to find his wife and baby, CNA said.
The wife and baby are injured but did not suffer life-threatening wounds, doctors said, according to the news agency. The father was barely injured.
Rescuers in lifeboats pulled survivors from the water and the wreckage. Some passengers appeared to be wearing life jackets as they waited their turn to board rescue boats.
The military said it had 165 personnel and numerous vehicles nearby to assist rescue efforts if required.
Checks ordered on other ATR 72s
Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration said it had ordered local airlines to carry out inspections on all their ATR 72s before they can fly again. The special checks will look at various aspects of the engine system, including fuel and propeller control.
TransAsia has to inspect 10 planes, while another carrier, Uni Air, has to examine 12 aircraft, according to the agency.
Hours after the crash, TransAsia Airways CEO Chen Xinde extended a “deep apology to the victims and our crew.”
He said 31 of the passengers aboard the flight were Chinese tourists, including three children. Twenty-two were from Taiwan, including one child.
The airline had sent the passenger manifest to authorities, and families were confirming the identities of the deceased, he said.
TransAsia said Thursday that it has started to give families emergency condolence money of 200,000 Taiwanese dollars ($6,360) per victim. It said it would also give extra funds for funeral arrangements of 1.2 million Taiwanese dollars ($38,160) to families identifying bodies.
The 31 Chinese tourists were traveling in two tour groups: the Xiamen Airlines International Travel Service Co. and the Xiamen Tourism Group International Travel Service Co.
Chou Jih-shine, the vice chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation – a quasi-governmental agency that covers cross-Taiwan Strait negotiations – said the agency had informed its Beijing counterpart. Chou added that the agency had sent personnel to the crash site.
Officials from China will participate in the investigation into the crash, Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council said Thursday, according to CNA.
Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration said the plane was less than a year old and had last completed a safety check on January 26.
The agency did not offer any information on what may have caused the crash.
The TransAsia crash is the latest in a number of plane disasters involving Asian carriers.
AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crashed on December 28 as it flew from the Indonesian city of Surabaya toward Singapore. There were 162 people on board.
In July, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.
TransAsia was involved in another deadly disaster in July of last year. Forty-eight people died on TransAsia Airways Flight 222, another ATR 72 aircraft, as it was attempting to land in the Taiwanese Penghu Islands during bad weather.
TransAsia had lost two other ATR 72s previously – one that crashed in the mountains in 1995, killing the four crew members on board, and one that crashed into the sea in 2002, killing the two pilots, according to CNA.
The biggest recent mystery has been the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. It disappeared on March 8, 2014, and has not been found.
CNN’s Jethro Mullen, Ed Payne and Katie Hunt contributed to this report.