* Weather condition OK to fly - civil aviation authorities
* Airline suspects weather was a factor
* Two French nationals killed
* TransAsia shares end down 5.5 pct
(Adds comment form airline)
By Faith Hung
TAIPEI, July 24 Taiwan authorities launched an
investigation on Thursday into the crash of a TransAsia Airways
turboprop plane in which 48 people were killed with
the weather expected to be a factor in the inquiry.
The plane, a 70-seat ATR 72, crashed on Wednesday evening
near the runway while trying to land on the small island of
Penghu, west of Taiwan island, after a typhoon had passed
earlier in the day.
The aircraft had 54 passengers and four crew on board. Two
of the dead were French, the French foreign ministry said, and
10 people were injured and taken to hospital.
The leaders of rivals China and Taiwan both offered their
condolences over the deaths.
Taiwan's civil aviation authorities said the weather had
been suitable for flying.
"There were nine flights on the same route between 2 p.m.
and 7 p.m. yesterday. Only the TransAsia flight crashed," said
Jean Shen, director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.
"The weather reports showed it was totally OK for landing,"
she said, adding that authorities were not ruling anything out.
"We can not say for sure what went wrong at this point. The
flight safety committee has opened an investigation."
Both black boxes had been found and officials would begin
examining them later in the day, she said.
Alison Kao, a TransAsia spokeswoman, said the weather could
have been a factor but the airline was not jumping to any
conclusions before the investigation.
The aircraft took off from the southern Taiwan city of
Kaohsiung, heading for Makong airport in the Penghu islands, but
it crashed just short of the runway on its second attempt to
land during a thunder storm. The islands are also known as the
No one on the ground was hurt.
Airline seats and life jackets were strewn around the crash
site and the roof of a nearby building was destroyed. Victims'
families were heading there, officials said.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said in a statement all of the
island's people were grieving.
"Today is a very sad day in the history of Taiwan aviation,"
China's president, Xi Jinping, who is on a Latin America
tour, felt "deeply grieved" after learning of the casualties,
the mainland's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a
statement, according to media.
The mainland and Taiwan have been rivals for decades, with
the mainland regarding Taiwan as a renegade province, though
commercial relations have grown in recent years.
Typhoon Matmo hit Taiwan on Wednesday, bringing heavy rain
and strong wind. It later passed the island and headed to China
and was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Taiwan has had a poor record for aviation safety over the
last two decades, though it has improved recently after the
government tightened safety measures.
TransAsia had been involved in eight "incidents" since 2002,
including this latest one, according to data on the website of
the Aviation Safety Council. It had a fatal accident in 2002
when a cargo plane carrying two pilots crashed into the sea.
TransAsia and bigger rivals, China Airlines and
Eva Airways, have been facing pressure from higher
energy prices and increasingly popular budget airlines.
TransAsia Airways is a Taiwan-based airline with a fleet of
about 23 Airbus and ATR aircraft, operating chiefly short-haul
flights on domestic routes as well as to mainland China, Japan,
Thailand and Cambodia, among its Asian destinations.
Shares of TransAsia Airways ended down 5.5 percent after
opening 7 percent lower. The main index ended up 0.3
(Additional reporting by Michael Gold in Taipei and Pichi
Chuang in Penghu; Editing by Robert Birsel)