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Dozens Hurt in China Plane Fire

August 22, 1999

HONG KONG (AP) _ A China Airlines jet caught fire and crash-landed at Hong Kong airport in a tropical storm Sunday evening, killing one woman and injuring more than half of the 315 people aboard.

Witnesses said the MD-11 came down burning, and the right wing hit the runway first, then the jet flipped over and the fire spread.

Flight CI642 from Bangkok, Thailand, was thrown off balance by ``an overly hard side wind″ as the pilot tried to come down in Tropical Storm Sam, said Scott Shih, a spokesman for China Airlines at the carrier’s headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan.

``The flight was on fire before it landed,″ said a U.S. businessman who saw the accident from an airport restaurant where he was waiting for a flight to China. ``It left a trail of fire, five or six times as long as the plane. They seemed to have problems containing the fire. It was so windy.″

The burning airplane skidded to a halt on the runway at Chek Lap Kok airport and it took officials five or 10 minutes to bring the flames under control, said the businessman, who refused to give his name but said he was from Portland, Ore.

Toshi Hoshino, a passenger who was changing airplanes in Hong Kong, said, ``I saw the plane, like a fireball coming down. The right wing hit the ground first. The left side of the body then followed.″

Taiwan cable station TVBS reported that most of the passengers were Thai citizens.

The plane was surrounded by fire engines and ambulances, and the Airport Authority closed Chek Lap Kok as well as an express train that runs between downtown Hong Kong and the airport.

It was the worst accident since the $9 billion airport opened in July 1998.

A 31-year-old woman died in the crash Sunday, said Doris Sin, a spokeswoman at Hong Kong’s Yan Chai Hospital who had no further information on the victim.

China Airlines said 188 people were injured, 20 of them seriously, in the crash.

At least 65 people were taken to hospitals, a Hong Kong government spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity.

In 1993, a China Airlines Boeing 747 veered off a runway at Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport and belly-flopped into the sea, injuring 22 people.

Operations were disrupted at Chek Lap Kok earlier Sunday as Tropical Storm Sam battered the territory.

Update hourly