An Air China passenger plane enroute from Beijing to Pusan crashed Monday into a wooded hill in heavy fog, killing most of the 166 passengers and crew members on board.
Rescuers said 39 people had survived the catastrophe, which happened as the plane tried to land near Kimhae Airport in the Republic of Korea. At the time of going to press, 114 bodies had been recovered.
The crash is the first ever for Air China -- the country's national flag carrier -- and brought its proud 47-year safety record to a tragic halt.
Li Tianran, counselor with the Chinese embassy in Seoul, told China Daily that 11 Chinese nationals were among the survivors.
The captain of the plane, Wu Xinlu, and a crew member, Wang Ze, were reportedly among the survivors, but their conditions were unknown.
Of the 155 passengers on board the Air China flight, 136 were Korean travelers and business people, 18 were Chinese and one was from Uzbekistan.
The flight, labeled CA129, took off from Beijing at around 8:40 am Monday and crashed at around 11:40 am local time as it was apparently struggling to land at Kimhae Airport.
Sources with Air China confirmed that the plane crashed near a 500-meter-high mountain in Kimhae as its original destination Pusan was shrouded by heavy fog and rain.
The fuselage of the plane broke into three parts as it smashed into forests but this may have had a cushioning effect and the timely rescue from the Korean side may have helped many to survive.
Sources with Air China said the black box flight recorders had been found near the crash scene.
Air China and General Administration of Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) had established crisis handling teams Monday soon after the accident.
Technical staff from the airline arrived at Kimhae last night to check the flight instruments to find out what happened during the plane's last moments.
Industry experts speculated that low visibility caused by the heavy fog and rain in Kimhae might be one of causes for the accident.
Yonhap news agency of the ROK said most of the survivors were seated at the front of the plane and quoted Pusan aviation officials as saying the rear part of plane appeared to have hit ground first.
Passengers who survived the accident later confirmed they also felt the rear part hit something before the plane crashed.
The accident was in coincidence with a crash exactly the same day three years ago, in which a Korean Air cargo jet plunged into a construction site in Shanghai suburbs, killing three Korean crew members on board and five Chinese workers on the ground.
The agency said the ill-fated jet that crashed into a hill near Kimhae International Airport was a replacement model which had run the Beijing-Kimhae route since Sunday.
The Boeing 767-200 with 208 passenger seats replaced the Boeing 737-300 with 128 seats, the model which has regularly flown between Kimhae and Beijing every day, except Friday.
Air China was unavailable for comment last night.
Chinese embassy officials in ROK were quick to get a handle on the disaster. They are working with the ROK side to handle relief efforts.
"It is foggy and rainy here, which is adding difficulty to our efforts," Counselor Li Tianran told China Daily.
(China Daily April 16, 2002)