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Authorities Search for Survivors from China Airlines Flight - 2002-05-25

A China Airlines jet traveling from Taiwan to Hong Kong crashed into the sea Saturday. Rescue workers were searching for survivors, but officials were increasingly doubtful that any will be found.

China Airlines Flight 611, with 225 people aboard, took off about 3 pm local time. The Boeing 747 jet was reported missing about 45 minutes later, near islands off Taiwan's western coastline.

Taiwan military and civilian rescue helicopters and boats have been scouring the area for survivors. Taipei has begun a formal investigation into the crash.

The accident revives questions about China Airlines' safety record. After a series of fatal mishaps in the 1990s, it appeared to have improved its safety performance.

David Fai, is the general manager of the China Airlines Hong Kong Branch. He bowed as he apologized for the accident.

"We already took all the efforts to improve our safety record. And all the safety record is our top priority to improve. We feel so sorry, deeply sorrowful at this incident," Mr. Fai said.

Mr. Fai spoke at a press conference in Hong Kong. Hong Kong aviation authorities have set up a response team to help the families and friends of flight 611's passengers.

Norman Lo is acting director general of the Civil Aviation Authority in Hong Kong. "We do not know what happened to the aircraft and what causes the accident. But the Hong Kong government is always ready to render any assistance in terms of search and rescue if the Taipei authority would like us to offer such help," Mr. Lo said.

There were 206 passengers, including three infants as well as 19 crew members on board. Airline officials said most of the passengers were from Taiwan, but several were from mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and other places.

Taiwan's Ministry of Transport and Communications said there were no reports of an explosion or anything unusual about the flight before it disappeared from radar screens. The jet's pilots apparently did not send out a distress signal.

China Airlines last fatal mishap was in 1999, when a jet flipped over on landing during a storm in Hong Kong, killing three people.