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Probe of China Airlines Crash Continues - 2002-05-27


Taiwan investigators continue sifting through wreckage of a China Airlines jet for clues that might determine what caused the plane to fall apart and crash into the Taiwan Strait Saturday.

Investigators of the doomed China Airlines flight that crashed on Saturday killing all 225 people on board, speculated Monday that whatever went wrong happened suddenly and with little or no warning. Bodies of passengers being recovered from the water are still intact and do not have burn marks. None were wearing lifejackets.

An internal explosion, sudden cabin depressurization, or metal fatigue could have been to blame say aviation experts. Military radar signals show flight 611 broke into four pieces at 9,100 meters about 20 minutes after takeoff from Taipei on its way to Hong Kong.

Taiwan's military ruled out speculation that a Chinese missile hit the plane and Taipei's National Security Bureau ruled out a terror attack. Saturday's crash was the airline's fourth fatal accident since 1994.

The Taiwan-Hong Kong air corridor, also known as the "golden route," is one of the most lucrative flight paths in Asia. China Airlines shares fell by seven percent on Monday, the daily limit with many more orders to sell unfilled. Some analysts say the tragedy is likely to delay commercial talks to expand services of the mostly Taiwan government-owned airline.

"China Airlines reportedly was speaking with some overseas U.S. or European-based major carriers," said Neal Stovicek, strategic advisor to National Securities Corporation in Taipei. "And they were considering making a strategic investment, such as taking 51 percent of China Airlines. Whether that would have been approved or not, it didn't go through and now its basic business model is being called into question."

Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration has announced that China Airlines' four remaining Boeing 747 jumbo jets are to remain grounded until passing safety checks. The doomed plane was more than 20 years old with more than 65,000 hours flying time. It was on one its last flights before it was to be taken out of service.

NEB/HK/AB/HB/JO/KBK

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