A Taiwanese flight carrying 58 people banked sharply onto its side, clipped a highway bridge, and careened into a shallow river today shortly after taking off from Taipei, killing at least 23 people and leaving 20 missing, officials said. Fifteen people were rescued with injuries. More than half of the passengers aboard TransAsia Airways Flight GE235 were from China and the death toll was expected to rise as rescue crews cleared the mostly submerged fuselage in the Keelung River. Taiwanese broadcasters repeatedly played a recording of the plane's final contact with the control tower in which the pilot called out "Mayday" three times.
The recording offered no direct clues as to why the plane was in distress. Today's flight had taken off at 11:53am from Taipei's downtown Sungshan Airport en route to the outlying Taiwanese-controlled Kinmen islands. The pilot issued the mayday call shortly after takeoff, Taiwanese civil aviation authorities said. TransAsia director Peter Chen said weather conditions were suitable for flying and the cause of the accident was unknown. It was the airline's second French-Italian-built ATR 72 to crash in the past year: Another crashed in the outlying Taiwan-controlled islands of Penghu last July 23, killing 48 for reasons that are still under investigation. (Read more plane crash stories.)