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121 Killed in Chinese Jetliner Crash - 2002-04-16

Authorities said the death toll from the crash of a Chinese jetliner near Busan, South Korea, has risen to 121; 38 people are believed to have survived the crash, and up to seven are listed as missing. Air traffic control officials believe the disaster was the result of pilot error.

Hundreds of rescue workers, assisted by sniffer dogs, combed a mountainside near Busan, South Korea, Tuesday for survivors of Monday's air disaster. Air China Flight CA 129 from Beijing to Busan was on approach to the airport when it hit the fog-shrouded mountain, killing most of the 166 people on board.

Officials said there are no more survivors or bodies left in the mangled remains of the aircraft and they have expanded their search to find those who may have been thrown far away from the impact of the crash.

The Boeing 767-200 shattered and caught fire when it hit the ground. Survivors were pulled from the wreckage, with many of them hospitalized in critical condition.

The South Korean government has mounted an investigation and China has sent a team to assist with the probe. Air traffic controllers believe the Chinese pilot accidentally flew into the mountain, near South Korea's second largest city. South Korean aviation officials say that at the time of the crash, light rain, low clouds and dense fog had reduced visibility and were likely factors in the crash.

Tom Ballantyne, senior correspondent for Orient Aviation Magazine, said officials are eager to interview the plane's pilot, who survived.

"The decision-making process which place took place in cockpit will certainly be a part of the investigation. But certainly it is a weather-related accident and the cockpit management or cockpit decision issues will have to be investigated," Mr. Ballantyne said.

China on Tuesday ordered domestic airlines to inspect their fleets. Prime Minister Zhu Rhongji said the disaster would not affect plans to restructure the state-owned aviation sector but Mr. Ballantyne said it could create problems if international investors lose confidence.

"It has come at the bad time. The Chinese carriers have spent a lot of money in the past few years improving their safety. They have not had any serious accidents in a long time. Air China is heading toward listing on the stock exchange so this does not help," Mr. Ballantyne said.

The incident occurred six weeks ahead of the opening of the World Cup soccer finals. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that President Kim Dae-jung told his cabinet Tuesday that he is concerned the disaster will have a negative impact on the soccer championship, which the country is co-hosting with Japan.