Taiwan plane survivors "changed seats before take-off"

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

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 into shallow water shortly after take-off on Wednesday.

The father, whose family name is Lin, asked to change seats to the right side after hearing a noise coming from the wing, the United Daily said. "He was uncomfortable after he heard the noise," the newspaper said. It did not elaborate.

But it said the parents found their son floating in the water after the crash. Lin promptly gave him CPR before rescuers arrived. "Right after Lin escaped the plane, he pulled up his wife, who was just next to him. He saw his son in the water, with face turning pale and lips turning purple," the newspaper said.

Media said it appeared the pilot, who was among the dead, had fought desperately to steer the stricken aircraft between apartment blocks and commercial buildings close to Taipei's Songshan airport before crashing into the river.

Dramatic pictures captured by a passing motorist showed the plane careening over an overpass, its nose up as its port-side wing struck the taxi and roadway just metres from passing cars. "The pilot's immediate action saved many people," Lin's brother, Chris Lin, told Reuters.

"We all feel very lucky." Rescue officials refused to give up hope of finding 12 people still missing on Thursday more than 24 hours after the crash, which killed at least 31 people. There are 15 known survivors. "We have not found survivors or bodies of the 12 missing, but we will not give up. We'll continue to search," said Yeh Chun-hsing, an official with Taipei's fire department.

Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said 16 of those killed were from among a group of 31 Chinese tourists, most from the southeastern city of Xiamen. Three Chinese passengers were rescued.

The pilot and co-pilot of the almost-new turboprop ATR 72-600 were among those killed, the CAA said. TransAsia identified the pilot as 42-year-old Liao Chien-tsung.

TransAsia's shares closed down 6.9 per cent on Wednesday, its biggest percentage decline since late 2011, and were down another 4 per cent on Thursday. The crash was the latest in a string of aviation disasters in Asia in the past 12 months and TransAsia's second in the past seven months.

The plane was bound for the Taiwan island of Kinmen, not far from Xiamen.