54 survivors, 42 dead in China plane crash

BEIJING, Aug 25, 2010 (AFP) - A Chinese airliner smashed in two while attempting to land in heavy fog, leaving at least 42 people dead but 54 survivors in the country's first major air disaster in nearly six years.

The Henan Airlines domestic flight was carrying 96 people including five crew when it slammed into the ground late Tuesday near the airport in the northeast city of Yichun, in remote Heilongjiang province, state media said.

The wreckage of the Henan Airlines ERJ-190 jet in Heilongjiang province on August 25, 2010. AFP

Forty-two people were killed, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), which reportedly had highlighted past technical problems with the model of plane involved -- an ERJ-190 jet made by Brazilian company Embraer.

On Wednesday, rescuers combed through the charred wreckage while the survivors -- mainly from the disembodied plane's front cabin -- were being treated in four local hospitals, the Xinhua news agency said.

The plane's captain was among the survivors, but he had severe facial injuries and was unable to talk, Xinhua said.

"The plane really started to jolt in a scary way -- the plane jolted five or six times very strongly," one male survivor told China Central Television from his hospital bed, describing scenes of panic as passengers tried to escape.

A second male survivor interviewed by CCTV -- his head bandaged and his nose bloodied -- also said he felt a "big jolt" as the plane was coming in to land and heard "big crashes -- bam bam bam".

Among those on board were several officials from China's Ministry of Human Resources. A CAAC official said the agency was not sure if there were foreigners on board, but the list of victims included only Chinese names.

At Yichun's Lindu airport, located in a forested area about nine kilometres (five miles) outside the city, rescuers were transferring victims' bodies wrapped in silver bags to funeral homes for identification, Xinhua said.

"Families were seen waiting anxiously at an open ground in front of the airport. Men smoked, women wailed," it reported.

The crash occurred just after 9:30 pm (1330 GMT) on Tuesday around 40 minutes after the plane took off from Harbin, the provincial capital.

Some passengers were thrown out of the cabin before the Embraer plane's turbine jet hit the ground, Xinhua said. The smouldering wreckage of the plane came to rest two kilometres (a mile) from the runway.

Cabin debris, books and rubbish were scattered across the muddy crash site.

Wang Xuemei, the vice mayor of Yichun who oversaw the rescue efforts, said most of the survivors had suffered broken bones.

Embraer offered its condolences to the victims' families and said it had sent a team of technicians to help with the investigation.

The cause of the crash was unclear but teams have found the plane's black box flight data recorder, Xinhua reported.

The Global Times quoted provincial police official Sun Bangnan as saying visibility was less than 300 metres (yards) at the time of the crash due to heavy fog.

Xinhua said Chinese carriers using ERJ-190s had reported technical problems in the past and the CAAC called a workshop in June 2009 to discuss the issues.

Notes from the meeting -- which involved Kunpeng Airlines, as Henan Airlines was previously known -- showed that broken turbine plates and flight control system errors were among the problems, Xinhua said.

The Beijing Youth Daily reported that China Southern Airlines suspended all night flights in and out of Lindu airport in September 2009 because of safety concerns.

Xinhua said the crash was China's first major air disaster since a China Eastern Airlines jet crashed in Inner Mongolia in November 2004, killing 53 people on board and two on the ground.

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