China Airlines jet explodes in Okinawa; all safe – II

The China Post staff & agencies

Chang said according to the report from the captain, ground crew at the airport noticed a fire at the left engine and notified the captain. Captain You Chien-kuo immediately instructed all crew members aboard to help with the passengers’ evacuation. You, 48, has logged 7,874 flight hours during his six years working with CAL.

His copilot is Tseng Ta-wei, 26, who joined CAL more than a year ago and has logged 845 flight hours. Chang said the CAA has ordered all 15 Boeing 737-800s currently in service in Taiwan grounded temporarily for thorough safety checks.

Chang said that according to preliminary findings, the cause of the engine fire may be related to the plane’s fuel supply system. As such, the safety checks will focus on the planes’ fuel supply system, engines, pumps and other related systems, he added.

The 15 Boeing 737-800s in Taiwan include the 12 owned by CAL, two belonging to CAL affiliate Mandarin Airlines, and one run by the ROC Air Force.

According to wire service reports from the scene, the charred remains of the plane lay broken on the tarmac near the terminal after the flames were extinguished, an hour after the explosion.

The nose of the plane sagged on its side, while the tail — emblazoned with the airline’s pink plum blossom symbol — was intact at the other end.

In between, the blackened remains of the interior could be seen, with much of the roof of the plane gone.

Early investigations raised the possibility that leaking fuel may have caught fire.

“The fire started when the left engine exploded a minute after the aircraft entered the parking spot,” Akihiko Tamura, an official at Japan’s Transport Ministry, told reporters.

Tamura said that airport traffic controllers had received no report from the pilot indicating anything was wrong.

Not terrorism

Japan’s National Police Agency said terrorism was not suspected for causing the fire. “We don’t have any information that suggests the accident was linked to terrorism. There is a possibility of the engine exploding and catching fire due to a fuel leak,” a Naha airport police official said. Local fire official Hiroki Shimabukuro said all people aboard were unhurt on inflated emergency slides just minutes before the plane burst into a fireball.

He said two passengers — a 7-year-old girl and a man in his 50s — had been hospitalized because they felt unwell, but not because they were injured.

Japan’s national broadcaster NHK showed footage of a squad of firefighters dousing the empty plane with extinguishers as flames and clouds of black smoke billowed from the fuselage.

The fire was put out about an hour later, leaving the aircraft charred and mangled.

“After the plane landed, there were flames, and I heard explosions a few times, then saw black smoke,” airport worker Hideaki Oyadomari told national broadcaster NHK. “We felt the hot air coming our way.”

Several passengers interviewed by NHK said they were suddenly told to use the emergency slides to evacuate as they were preparing to get off the plane after what seemed like an ordinary landing.

Some said they saw smoke and flames entering the cabin and that they heard explosions minutes after they exited the aircraft.

Officials from the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission were at the airport to investigate the incident.