The scenario is enough to give any sane person nightmare. After all, nobody would ever suspect that their seemingly ordinary commute along a busy highway would be interrupted by a horrific plane crash. But that’s exactly what happened to drivers in Taipei, Taiwan, in February 2015.
The day was, in fact, February 4, 2015, and drivers approaching Taipei’s Nanhu Bridge were steadily making their way through the city. But, just before 11:00 a.m., an event took place that would shock the world. And, incredibly, one driver’s dash-mounted camera would catch everything on film. Reviewing the footage filmed on the day, you can see a plane in the distance. It’s clearly losing altitude and narrowly misses a tower block.
As the film progresses, a distant airplane quickly becomes larger on the screen. Shockingly, it loses altitude quickly and narrowly misses a tower block. Then the twin-engine plane gets closer and closer to the oncoming traffic, and as it approaches the bridge, it banks to an unbelievable angle.
As the plane turns so that it is at a 90° angle to the ground, its left wing actually strikes the front of an unlucky taxi. Moments later, the wing hits a concrete rail at the edge of the bridge before the aircraft plummets into the Keelung River below. The whole astonishing scene is over in a matter of seconds.
Understandably, the car with the dash-mounted camera screeched to a halt to take in the devastation, which seemed minimal, given that an entire airplane had just crashed into a highway. However, the cab struck by the plane’s wing was damaged beyond repair.
The ill-fated TransAsia Airways Flight 235 had taken off from Taipei’s Songshan Airport at 10:52 a.m. Within minutes of take-off, however, things began to go drastically wrong. In fact, a Mayday call soon came in from the pilots on board.
“GE235. Mayday, mayday. Engine flameout,” was the message received by air traffic controllers seconds before the deadly crash. The ATR 72-600 aircraft had climbed to a height of just 1,600 feet before it began to rapidly lose altitude.
When the plane struck the taxi, two people inside the car suffered non-fatal injuries. However, after colliding with the edge of the bridge, the plane then careered into the river and broke in two as it hit the surface of the water. Tragically, many of the passengers on board Flight 235 were not as fortunate as those inside the taxi.
There were 58 people, including crew, on board the plane when it crash-landed in the Keelung River. Among the passengers were 31 Chinese tourists and 22 Taiwanese natives. Sadly, the large majority of those on the flight that day wouldn’t make it out alive.
In all, 43 people lost their lives. And in a matter of hours, TransAsia Airways CEO Chen Xinde had issued a heartfelt apology to all of the victims. The impact of the plane was so devastating, however, that it seems remarkable anybody survived at all.
Of course, the rescue effort was huge. For instance, the military immediately offered the use of vital equipment and 165 personnel to help to save survivors. In the end, the response to the crash would involve many organizations and individuals.
However, it took rescuers a whole 35 minutes to reach the scene. The assembled firemen, soldiers and volunteers then began the search for survivors in the back half of the plane. Meanwhile, divers were sent to retrieve the bodies of those in the submerged front half.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration demanded that all ATR 72s be checked and tested before being allowed to take to the skies again. In particular, authorities ordered that the plane’s engines receive a thorough inspection.
In all, TransAsia Airways had ten operational ATR 72s grounded while the checks were carried out. After all, this wasn’t the first time that the airline had come under fire. Unbelievably, the February 2015 crash marked the second fatal crash involving a TransAsia ATR 72 within a year.
In July 2014 another TransAsia flight had crash-landed, this time on an approach to Taiwan’s Penghu Islands. In that tragic accident, 48 people lost their lives. Blame for the crash, however, was attributed to adverse weather conditions and poor visibility on the day.
Incidentally, the ATR 72 that crashed in February 2015 flew for the first time in March 2014, so it was a relatively new aircraft. Despite this, however, both of its engines, a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127Ms, had already been replaced. In fact, the left engine had been replaced twice before the accident.
In any case, shortly after the crash TransAsia Airways responded by temporarily adjusting its website and social media accounts to reflect a period of mourning. Greyscale images were put in place of color images, and the flight number was permanently retired.
After a full investigation, the official cause of the crash was divulged to the public. It transpired that just two minutes after takeoff one of the engines had in fact failed. Then, tragically, the other engine, still in working order, was also shut down.
The Civil Aeronautics Administration ordered that all TransAsia Airways ATR pilots would have to take a proficiency test in the following days. As a result, over 100 flights were canceled, 29 pilots were suspended and all Taiwanese airlines were instructed to review their safety protocols.
As a result of the crash, TransAsia offered the equivalent of $475,000 to the families of each of the passengers who had been killed. Perhaps understandably, however, not everyone accepted the company’s offer. After all, there is no amount of money that could replace a lost loved one.