BEIJING (Reuters) - A passenger plane crashed in northeast China late on Tuesday, overshooting the runway and bursting into flames, killing 43 of 96 people onboard in what was one of the nation’s worst air disaster in years.
The Henan Airlines plane crashed at 10:10 pm (1410 GMT) in Yichun, a small city in Heilongjiang province, after flying from Harbin, the province’s capital, state media said.
Forty-three bodies of people killed in the accident had already been found at the site where the plane split apart after overshooting the runway of Yichun airport, a city official, Jin Yi, told the China News Service.
The other 53 people on board “have all been taken to hospital for treatment, and at present none is in danger of loss of life,” the report said, citing Jin. Their injuries included burns, cuts and broken limbs.
“The plane split apart on grass 1.5 kilometers from the runway and a small explosion happened as it did,” Sun Bangnan, a deputy chief of police in Heilongjiang, told the China News Service.
Other Chinese news reports, citing unnamed witnesses or sources, said the plane began to fall apart or burst into flames before it overshot the runway.
Chinese media reports say there were 91 passengers and five crew members on board. The plane was an Embraer 190, said the China News Service.
The accident was a jolt for China’s fast-growing air sector, which has escaped disaster for several years thanks to relatively young fleets and stricter safety rules.
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, the most senior official overseeing safety issues, headed to the disaster, according to Xinhua.
China’s last major civilian aircraft crash was in 2004, when a CRJ200 operated by China Eastern Airlines came down in a frozen lake in northern Inner Mongolia shortly after take-off, killing more than 50 people.
In 2002, a China Northern flight from Beijing to the port city of Dalian fell into the sea after the pilot reported a fire in the cabin, killing 112 people.
Yichun airport is a small domestic facility which opened only last year, and is one of an increasing number of airports built in remote parts of China to help boost economic development.
Henan Airlines is a small regional carrier controlled by Shenzhen Airlines, which is itself part-owned by Air China. The airline is based in Henan, a province in central China.
It changed its name from Kunpeng Airlines earlier this year and flies only domestic routes using the Brazilian-made Embraer.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, Liu Zhen and Sally Huang in Beijing and Alison Leung and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; editing by Benjamin Kang Lim