Heavy fog shrouds airport as crash rescue continues

Updated: 2010-08-25 07:27
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YICHUN, Heilongjiang - In the fog-shrouded Lindu airport in Yichun City, rescuers on early Wednesday morning were wrapping up bodies of the plane crash victims in corpse bags and placing them in front of a fuming wreckage.

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At 6 am, about eight hours after the turbine jet crash that killed at least 42, Xinhua reporters arrived at the scene saw crews finishing up the search and shifting the focus of the rescue to clearing the ground.

But a lingering heavy fog apparently hampered the rescue efforts. The visibility at the scene was only 200 meters before daybreak Wednesday. Xinhua reporters saw the ground was messy with mud and water, hovered by flocks of flies.

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

The city's top official Xu Zhaojun said the government had completed the list of casualties and would soon move the bodies to the city's funeral homes for families to identify their loved ones.

The ERJ-190 jet, manufactured by the Brazilian aerospace conglomerate Embraer with maximum passenger capacity of 108, crashed near the runway of Lindu airport of Yichun at 9:36 p.m. Tuesday,  some 40 minutes after it took off from the provincial capital Harbin.

Ninety-one passengers, including five children, and five crew members boarded the plane, sources with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said.

Officials said more than forty bodies were found while the rest have been hospitalized.

The wreckage scene - some 2,000 meters from the runway - remains cordoned off. But the burnt frontal of the jet and the shape of the distorted cabin can be identified. Books, trash and cabin debris were scattered around.

The jet broke into two pieces before it smashed into the ground and exploded at about 9:36 p.m.Tuesday, local officials said. Most of the casualties were found in the back of the cabin.

The blaze had been put out but for some time the flames lightened the area in the middle of the night.

The cause of the crash is being investigated.

Local aviation officials declined to be interviewed while a team of CAAC officials and technicians left Beijing for Yichun to participate in the rescue and investigation.

The tragedy also prompted Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang to lead a team of transportation, health, work safety, and security officials to Yichun overnight.

A staff worker with Embraer's Beijing office said the company did not yet have any comments on the accident.

Lindu Airport is located in a forest some 9 kilometers away from downtown Yichun, a city with about 1 million population.

Henan Airlines launched the Yichun-Harbin service this year and operated flights by ERJ-190 jets three times a week.

The carrier, based a central China province with the same name, was previously known as Kunpeng Airlines and was only renamed Henan Airliens last year. It is run by the Shenzhen-based Shenzhen Airlines.

China had kept a remarkable air travel safety record of about 2,100 days - or 69 months - without accidents before the passenger plane crash in Yichun City, Heilongjiang Province, on Tuesday, statistics from the CAAC show.

More than five years ago, a CRJ-200 jet crashed shortly after take-off into a park in Baotou City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, killing all 53 people on board and two others on the ground.

The jet was owned by China Eastern Airlines, one of China's top three carriers.