The death toll from a TransAsia Airways plane that crashed into a Taipei river shortly after taking off has risen to 31, Taiwanese officials said on Thursday, and could rise further with 12 people still missing.
TransAsia Flight GE235, carrying 58 passengers and crew, lurched between buildings, clipped an overpass with one of its wings and crashed upside down into shallow water shortly after taking off from a downtown Taipei airport on Wednesday.
A combination photo shows still images taken from an amateur video shot by a motorist of a TransAsia Airways plane cartwheeling over a motorway. (Reuters)
Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said 15 people survived. Sixteen of those killed were from among a group of 31 Chinese tourists, most from the southeastern city of Xiamen, it said. Three Chinese passengers were rescued.
The pilot and co-pilot of the almost-new turboprop ATR 72-600 were among those killed, the CAA said. TransAsia identified the pilot as 42-year-old Liao Chien-tsung.
Aviation staff inspect the wreckage of the TransAsia ATR 72-600 turboprop plane on the Keelung river outside Taiwan's capital Taipei in New Taipei City on February 5, 2015. AFP
Both the pilots' bodies had been recovered, TransAsia said on Thursday as sketchy details of the plane's final moments began to emerge.
The pilot was hailed as a hero for apparently battling to avoid hitting built-up areas shortly after issuing a "mayday" call.
Dramatic pictures captured by a passing motorist showed the plane careening over an overpass, its nose up as its port-side wing struck the roadway just metres from passing cars.
Taiwanese media reported that it appeared Liao had fought desperately to steer his stricken aircraft between apartment blocks and commercial buildings close to Taipei's Songshan airport before crashing into the river.
The head of Taiwan's CAA, Lin Tyh-ming, has said Liao had 4,916 flying hours under his belt and the co-pilot 6,922 hours.
Taiwanese media reported that Liao came from a poor family.
The son of two street vendors, he studied hard before passing exams to join Taiwan's air force. He later flew for China Airlines, Taiwan's main carrier, before joining TransAsia.
TransAsia's shares closed down 6.9 percent on Wednesday, its biggest percentage decline since late 2011. The crash was the latest in a string of aviation disasters in Asia in the past 12 months.
Tales of miracle escapes emerged, as television footage showed a father cuddling his toddler son as they were taken to shore by boat after being rescued Wednesday.
Rescuers lift the wreckage of the TransAsia ATR 72-600 oot of the Keelung river at New Taipei City on February 4, 2015. (AFP)
Together with the child's mother, the family had switched seats on the plane "out of a hunch" that saved their lives, the United Daily News said.
"The family originally sat in the heavily damaged left side but Lin Ming-wei felt uneasy after he heard noises before taking-off and requested to switch seats," the report quoted Dai Bi-chin, a friend of the family, as saying after visiting them in hospital.
Their new seats put them next to a crack in the plane after it crashed, and the newspaper said Lin was able to pull his wife to safety and then revive his son after spotting him in the water, blue and unresponsive.
The Civil Aeronautics Administration has grounded a total of 22 ATR planes from two Taiwanese airlines for safety checks after the accident on a domestic route to the island of Kinmen - the second fatal crash for TransAsia after 48 people were killed in July.
"This morning we have some 60 divers going underwater to search" in addition to 20 boats scouring the river, said Liu Yung-chou, an official from the national fire agency which is coordinating the rescue operation.
Desperate crew shouted "Mayday! Mayday! Engine flameout!" as the plane plunged out of the sky, according to a recording thought to be the final message from the cockpit to the control tower played on local television.
Soldiers carry a body after a TransAsia Airways plane crash landed in a river in New Taipei City, February 4, 2015. (Reuters)
Macau's Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement on Wednesday the engines of the plane that crashed had been replaced at Macau Airport on April 19 last year, during its delivery flight, "due to engine-related technical issues".
It said the engines were replaced by TransAsia engineers and the plane left Macau airport two days later.
Lin from Taiwan's CAA said the aircraft last underwent maintenance on Jan. 26.
The plane was powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW127M engines. Pratt & Whitney is part of United Technologies.