The shocking crash of TransAsia Airways Flight 235 was caused when one of the pilots panicked, and deactivated the aircraft’s one working engine, air crash investigators concluded.
The plane’s captain Liao Chien-tsung ould be heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying “Wow, pulled back the wrong side throttle.”
The error not only cost the lives of 43 people, but came close to causing more fatalities on the ground as the French-made ATR 72 turboprop aircraft slammed into a bridge – slicing a taxi in two with the tip of its wing.
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The tragedy began to unfold shortly before 11am local time on February 4, 2015, when Flight 235 took off from Songshan Airport in Taiwan for a scheduled hour-long flight to Kinmen Airport on the Chinese mainland.
But just minutes after takeoff, one of the aircraft’s two turboprop engines suffered a mechanical failure.
Normal procedure would have been to shut down the malfunctioning engine and use the other one to limp back to the airport for an emergency landing.
But the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, recovered later on the evening of February 4, revealed the pilot’s deadly mistake.
At 10.52am, the plane’s number two engine, on the right-hand side of the aircraft, suffered a flameout resulting in an almost complete loss of power.
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Less than a minute later, due to a catastrophic miscommunication between captain Liao Chien-tsung and his co-pilot Liu Tze-chung, the crew shut down the number one engine.
With both engines now out of action and the aircraft at the dangerously-low altitude of 1,630 ft, Flight 235 began plummeting towards the Keelung River.
The last radio message from the cockpit to air traffic control was: "Mayday, mayday, engine flameout."
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After passing one apartment block in almost level flight the aircraft banked sharply, possibly in a bid to avoid striking other buildings.
As it passed over a raised roadway the aircraft’s wing scythed through a taxi, cutting the vehicle almost completely in two.
Miraculously, the two people in the car at the time received only minor injuries.
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Flight 235’s horrific descent ended moments later as the plane landed upside-down in the river. Of the 58 people on board the flight, only 15 survived.
All three of the flight crew and one of the two flight attendants were among the dead.
The Taipei Fire Department, military, and volunteer rescue workers all arrived at the crash scene within minutes, although it was another half hour before boats reached the survivors in the river.
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Divers then began the grim work of recovering the bodies of the dead passengers, most of whom were seated towards the front of the plane. In murky waters they cut through the seat belts in order to extract the corpses.
One survivor, Lin Mingwei, told how he and his wife had asked to change seats from the left-hand side of the plane over to the right before take-off because he has heard a strange a noise coming from the wing.
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His decision may well have have saved their lives.
He ended up sitting close to where the fuselage broke open, making it possible to scramble out of the opening as the plane began to sink.
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Another survivor, 72-year-old Huang Jin-sun, told reporters that he tried to help others struggling to get free of the wreckage.
"I saw others were drowning,'' he told local reporters, "If I did not move quick enough to help them, soon they would be dead.''
The driver of the Vokswagen taxi, named in local reports as Mr Zhou, suffered head injuries as the plane’s wing cut through his vehicle and said "I fainted the moment it hit us.”
However, he added, "I am lucky to be alive."
Luckier still, perhaps is flight attendant Huangjing Ya. The only one of the plane’s crew to survive, she had narrowly avoided being on another TransAsia Airways flight that had crashed the previous year, killing all but 10 people on board.
She cheated death on that occasion by swapping shifts with a colleague.
The downing of Flight 235 – the second major accident involving TransAsia Airways in seven months – sparked immediate proficiency tests for the airline’s pilots, resulting in an embarrassing percentage of failures.
The airline ceased its operations and shut down indefinitely at the end of the following year.
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