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“Mayday, engine flameout”: Pilot’s words before TransAsia flight went down

Feb. 5, 2015, New Taipei City, Taiwan - Moments before the TransAsia Airways propjet banked sharply and crashed into a river, one of its pilots said, "Mayday, mayday, engine flameout," according to a Taiwanese aviation official.


February 5, 2015
By The Associated Press

“Engine flameout” refers to flames being extinguished in the combustion chamber of the engine, so that it shuts down and no longer drives the propeller. Causes could include a lack of fuel or being struck by volcanic ash, a bird or some other object. “Mayday” is an international distress call.

At least 32 people on board the ATR 72 were killed and 15 survivors were injured in the crash in Taiwan’s capital, the latest in a series of aircraft disasters linked to Asian airlines. Divers were searching in the river for the remaining 11 people on board, including the two pilots. The plane’s black boxes were found overnight.

Video images of Flight 235’s final moments in the air captured on car dashboard cameras appear to show the left engine’s propeller at standstill as the aircraft turned sharply, its wings going vertical and clipping a highway bridge before plunging into the Keelung River in Taipei on Wednesday.

An audio recording of the pilot’s communications with the control tower at takeoff and during the brief, minutes-long flight were widely broadcast. A Taiwan Civil Aeronautical Administration official who declined to be named confirmed the distress call and its wording Thursday, but did not say how it might relate to a cause for the crash.

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Among the injured was Huang Jin-sun, a 72-year-old passenger who said he tried to help others struggling in the river outside the wreckage.

“I saw others are drowning,” he told the ETTV broadcaster from his bed at Tri Service General Hospital in Taipei. “If I did not move quick enough to help them, soon they would be dead.”

He suspected trouble with the flight from the start.

“I felt something was not right after the plane took off,” he said. “I said to the woman next to me to buckle seatbelts, hold on to the seat and cover our heads. I (had) just finished saying it and then plane went down.”

About 10 Taipei fire agency divers were looking for any more bodies that may be at the cold river bottom. A crane was used to bring the rear section of the plane to the shore Wednesday night. The fuselage of the turbo-propeller jet was largely dismantled by hydraulic rescue tools and now lay alongside recovered luggage.

At midday Thursday, about a dozen relatives of Taiwanese victims arrived at the riverbank in the capital to perform traditional mourning rituals. Accompanied by Buddhist monks ringing brass bells, they bowed to the river and held aloft cloth inscriptions tied to pieces of bamboo meant to guide the spirits of the dead to rest.

Police diver Cheng Ying-chih said search and rescue efforts were being hampered by “zero visibility” in the turbid river and cold water temperatures that were forcing divers to work on one-hour shifts.

He said the front of the plane had broken into numerous pieces, making the job all the more difficult.

“We’re looking at a very tough search and rescue job,” Cheng told reporters gathered on the river bank beside the wreckage where luggage had been removed and placed in neat rows.

The mangled rear part of the fuselage lay upside down, its wings and tail assembly sheared off and multiple holes torn into its side.

Soldiers and rescue workers worked to shore up the bank with sandbags and steel plates in preparation for lifting further wreckage under cloudy skies. Relatives of some of the Taiwanese victims were expected to visit the scene to carry out traditional Buddhist mourning rituals.

ATR, a French-Italian consortium based in Toulouse, France, said it was sending a team to Taiwan to help in the investigation.

The plane has a general good reputation for safety and reliability and is known among airlines for being cheap and efficient to use, said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at Flightglobal magazine in Singapore. About 1,200 of the planes are currently in use worldwide.