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US Investigators Join Taiwan Crash Probe - 2002-05-28

U.S. investigators joined the probe into what caused a China Airlines 747 jumbo jet to break up in mid-air over the Taiwan Strait. Dozens of bodies have been recovered and all 225 people on board are presumed dead. Recovery efforts may be complicated by bad weather in the area.

Search teams have not yet recovered any large pieces of wreckage that could help explain why flight CI 611 disintegrated in mid-air. The voice and flight data recorders have not been found, and the Taiwan Aviation Safety Council thinks the flight recorders could be damaged.

Taiwan authorities have not determined why the Boeing 747 jet broke up over the Taiwan Strait, just 20 minutes after leaving Taipei bound for Hong Kong.

Tuesday, American experts joined the investigation. They have worked on similar mysterious plane accidents, such as a TWA crash in 1996 and a Swissair accident in 1998.

Dozens of bodies have been pulled from the sea but more than half of the 225 people who were on the jet remain missing. 40 Taiwan navy vessels and around 100 fishing boats are involved in the search. However, rough weather developing in the vicinity might disrupt their efforts.

Wai-man Ma is the senior scientific officer of the Hong Kong Observatory, which tracks weather in the region. "The area of low pressure will persist over the north-eastern part of the South China sea for a while," he said. "And we are expecting that it will move away from that region later on and will move closer to southern Taiwan. It is possible that over the region of southern Taiwan that they may experience some high sea."

China Airlines, which is mostly government owned, has seen four fatal accidents over the past eight years. A government plan to make the airline a private company in 1998 stalled.

A top Taiwan leader ordered the foundation that controls China Airlines to sell some of its shares to private investors. He says solving the airline's problems requires making it a private company, and that the government will come up with a reform plan for the carrier in two weeks.