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US Air Safety Officials Arrive in South Korea


Five air safety officials from the United States have arrived in South Korea to help investigate the crash of Air China Flight CA-129 Monday. Authorities say the death toll in the crash now stands at 126.

Officials from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were asked to join the probe of the Air China crash because the plane was a U.S.-built Boeing 767-200. Officials from China also have joined the investigation into the disaster, thought to be the first in the airline's history. They are visiting the crash site and viewing air traffic control systems at Kimhae Airport along with South Korean officials.

The flight, which was en route from Beijing to Busan shortly before noon Monday, was approaching Kimhae Airport when it hit a fog-shrouded mountain. Air traffic controllers had asked it to change direction before landing because of strong winds.

Information released by South Korean aviation authorities suggest that the pilot, Wu Xinlu, of China, was unaware of the impending disaster. Now in the hospital, Mr. Wu told investigators that he had experienced no problem with the aircraft and had landed at the airport four or five times this year. However, he added that it was the first time he was told to circle the airport and approach the runway from the opposite direction.

About 120 of the 166 people on the plane died. Most of the victims were South Korean. About 100 relatives were bused to the isolated crash site Wednesday, which remains strewn with debris. They carried photographs, flowers and other offerings. Some prayed or searched for their relatives' personal effects.

South Korean officials say they will use genetic tests to identify most of the bodies, which were burned beyond recognition.

The crash occurred six weeks before the opening of the World Cup soccer finals. Tens of thousands of Chinese soccer fans are expected to visit South Korea to watch China in its first appearance in the tournament. The South Korean government has ordered checks of air, land and sea transportation safety ahead of the matches.

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