Mike Chinoy: Witnesses heard explosion
May 25, 2002 Posted: 11:45 AM EDT (1545 GMT
CNN Correspondent Mike Chinoy is covering the crash from Hong Kong.
CHINOY: China Airlines Flight CI611 took off from the main international airport in Taiwan heading here to Hong Kong. This is one of the busiest air routes in Asia, but the plane never made it.
About halfway through the flight, which normally takes about an hour and 10 minutes, it simply disappeared from the radar screen and crashed into the sea in waters about 30 miles off the coast of western Taiwan.
Officials say there was no mayday or distress call from the experienced cockpit crew. The plane was flying at its normal cruising altitude of 35,000 feet when the catastrophe took place.
A few moments ago, the chairman of China Airlines was quoted as saying he did not think mechanical difficulties were likely to have caused the crash, noting that any kind of major mechanical malfunction would have given pilots enough time to radio a distress call.
There are reports from some eyewitnesses -- fishermen in the area -- in the water where the plane came down being quoted by Taiwan television as hearing a loud explosion, and some farmers in western Taiwan have found bits of debris in their fields. So there is some speculation that there might have been an explosion on board.
The plane was built in 1979 and was one of the oldest in the China Airlines fleet. Although it had been inspected recently, it was due to be retired soon because of its age.
China Airlines has one of the worst safety records in the world. In the 1990s, it had three major crashes in which hundreds of people were killed, and in the last couple of years it had been in the midst of a major reorganization and management reshuffle, trying to improve its abysmal reputation.
A major investigation is now under way. Search teams are at the scene of the crash looking for bodies. There are no reports of any survivors.
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