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Taiwan Blames 'Structural Failure' for 2002 Air Crash

Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council says fatigue cracks are the likely cause of a fatal China Airlines crash that occurred nearly three years ago.

The China Airlines jet dropped out of the sky just 20 minutes after taking off from Taipei, en route to Hong Kong in May 2002.

The fiery crash killed all 225 people on board.

Friday's report from Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council says cracks in the tail of the Boeing jet caused massive structural failure as the plane approached its cruising altitude.

Kay Yong, who led the investigation, says the cracks may have appeared first in 1980, after the jet's tail hit the runway during take-off.

"And there were scratches left on the skin, the fatigue cracks start[ed to] grow along the scratches because the scratch itself is a stress concentrator," he explained.

Dr. Yong's final report says China Airlines, on three separate occasions, failed to properly identify the scratches and, as a result, failed to repair the damage.

"However even those three opportunities, whether they would be able to see a crack or not is questionable, we're merely indicating those are all risk factors," he said.

Representatives for China Airlines were not available for comment but a statement posted on the company's website disputes the safety council's findings.

The airline insists too little of the jet was recovered to properly identify the cause of the crash.

The 2002 accident was China Airline's 10th fatal event since 1970.

The safety council's findings have been submitted to Taiwan's justice ministry for review. There is no word yet on any possible government fine or legal action.