Change of seats saves family, dead pilot lauded

Rescuers pull a passenger out of the TransAsia Airways plane which crash landed in a river, in New Taipei City, February 4, 2015.

A TAIWAN couple and their two-year-old toddler who survived a plane crash in the centre of Taipei changed seats from the left side of the plane before take-off, a move that likely saved their lives, a newspaper reported yesterday.

TransAsia Flight GE235, carrying 58 passengers and crew, lurched between buildings, clipped a taxi and an overpass with one of its wings, and crashed on its left side in shallow water shortly after take-off on Wednesday.

The father, whose surname is Lin, had asked to change seats to the right side "out of a hunch" after hearing a noise coming from the wing, the United Daily News said. "He was uncomfortable after he heard the noise," the newspaper said.

Their new seats put them next to a crack in the plane after it crashed, and Mr Lin was able to pull his wife to safety and then revive his son after spotting him in the water, blue and unresponsive.

Mr Lin's brother, Lin Ming-yi, told reporters that his nephew was born premature at a mere 606g and had stayed in hospital for more than 100 days.

"My brother just can't live without his son. When he found him, after lying in cold water for three minutes and with no signs of breathing or heartbeat, he performed CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). He brought his son back," he said.

Another survivor - for the second time - was 26-year-old flight attendant Huang Jin-ya, who was supposed to be on a TransAsia plane that crashed in July on Penghu Island, killing 48, but she switched her shift, according to local reports.

"She crawled out of the plane using her last moments of consciousness and saw water everywhere. She kept crying and said to me, 'I thought I was going to die'," her aunt told United Daily News.

The 42-year-old pilot, Liao Chien-tsung, has been hailed as a hero for steering the plane away from populated areas, potentially avoiding more deaths and damage. He died in the crash.

"The pilot apparently made a conscious effort to avoid further and unnecessary casualties by ditching in the river. It was a very courageous move," Hong Kong-based aviation analyst Daniel Tsang told AFP.

The Apple Daily newspaper ran a front-page story thanking "the pilot for saving Taipei".

"We are proud of him. He was very brave to avoid the buildings," Mr Liao's aunt told reporters at a funeral home in Taipei.

Taiwan rescuers scoured the Keelung River yesterday for 12 people still missing from the crash. At least 31 have been killed, with 15 known survivors.

In an overnight operation, large parts of the almost-new turboprop ATR 72-600's fuselage were lifted from the river, enabling rescuers to recover bodies trapped inside, as divers battled strong currents yesterday to search downstream for more victims.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou paid his respects to the victims and comforted their families at a funeral home in Taipei. He also visited the wounded at several hospitals.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration has grounded a total of 22 ATR planes from two Taiwanese airlines for safety checks following the accident.

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