A Taiwanese flight carrying 58 people turned on its side in midair, clipped an elevated roadway and careened into a shallow river Wednesday shortly after taking off from Taipei, killing at least 19 people and leaving 24 missing, officials and media reports said.
The TransAsia Airways domestic flight GE235 was carrying 58 people and travelling from Taipei to the island of Kinmen.
Shortly after taking off from Shongshan Airport, just before 11am local time (4pm NZT), it lost contact with controllers, officials said.
Footage captured by members of the public show the ATR-72-500 aircraft veering dangerously close to a highway bridge. In one of the videos captured by a person travelling in a vehicle behind a taxi on the bridge, the aircraft is seen tilting almost completely on its side before one of its wings clips the taxi ahead and the barrier of the bridge.
The taxi comes to a stop and the aircraft goes out of shot. It later ends up in a nearby river, where photos showed at least nine survivors - including a baby - being ferried to safety.
The taxi company - Crown Taxi - was unable to respond to Herald questions, but a spokesman later told media that their driver had been taken to hospital with concussion and a head injury.
Rescuers quickly arrived at the Keelung River to help get passengers out of the aircraft.
The Taiwanese aviation authority director Lin Chi-Ming later confirmed that two people had died.
Local news agencies, however, reported that up to 19 people had died.
Wu Jun-Hong, a Taipei Fire Department official who was co-ordinating the rescue, said the victims were among 27 people pulled from the plane.
The 31 people who remained unaccounted for either were still in the fuselage or had been pulled downriver, he said. "At the moment, things don't look too optimistic," Wu told reporters at the scene.
"Those in the front of the plane are likely to have lost their lives."
Rescuers were pulling luggage from an open plane door to clear the fuselage, and Wu said they planned to build a pontoon bridge to facilitate those efforts.
Social media was abuzz after the accident, with members of the local media posting up real-time photos and updates.
Voice of America's Asia correspondent, veteran journalist Steve Herman, posted a photo on Twitter showing the aircraft partly submerged, with rescuers trying to reach passengers.
Photos appeared of some passengers being rescued from the aircraft.
Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence said it had sent 165 people and eight boats to the riverside rescue scene, joining local fire department rescue crews.
A TransAsia media office declined to comment on possible reasons for the crash, deferring to a news conference planned for later.
Most of the passengers were from China, Taiwanese and Chinese state media reported. Kinmen's airport is a common link between Taipei and China's Fujian province.
A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said last night it was still making inquiries, but it had had no indication that there were any Kiwis on board.
Last July, 48 people were killed in a plane crash west of Taipei when another ATR-72-500 crashed.
Image / UDNTV
Stormy weather and low visibility are thought to have been factors in the crash of the plane operated by TransAsia Airways. Ten people survived that crash. That aircraft crashed on the island of Penghu in the Taiwan Strait west of Taipei.
The TransAsia crash was Taiwan's first deadly civil aviation accident since 2002, when a China Airlines plane went down shortly after takeoff, killing 225.
Watch live coverage of the rescue effort here: