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TransAsia Plane Crashes Into River, 23 Dead

A TransAsia Airways plane with 58 passengers and crew on board cartwheeled into a river shortly after taking off from a downtown Taipei airport on Wednesday, killing 23 people and leaving 20 missing, officials said.

Fifteen people survived the crash after the plane lurched between buildings, clipped an overpass with its port-side wing and crashed upside down in shallow water.

Dramatic pictures taken by a car driver and posted on Twitter showed the plane careening over the motorway soon after the turboprop ATR 72-600 aircraft took off in apparently clear weather on a domestic flight for the island of Kinmen.

"I've never seen anything like this," a volunteer rescuer said of the most recent in a series of disasters to hit Asian carriers in the past 12 months.

Television footage showed survivors wearing life jackets wading and swimming clear of wreckage. Others, including a young child, were taken to shore in inflatable boats.

Emergency rescue officials crowded around the partially submerged fuselage of flight GE235, lying on its side in the river, trying to help those on board.

The plane just missed apartment buildings, though it was not clear if that was luck or whether the pilot was aiming for the river. Footage showed a van skidding to a halt on the damaged overpass after barely missing the plane's wing, with small pieces of the aircraft scattered along the road.

The chief executive of TransAsia, Peter Chen, bowed deeply at a televised news conference as he apologized to passengers and crew.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his government had offered Taiwan any help necessary following the crash.

The last communication from one of the aircraft's pilots was "Mayday Mayday engine flameout", according to an air traffic control recording.

A flameout occurs when the fuel supply to the engine is interrupted or when there is faulty combustion, resulting in an engine failure. Twin-engined aircraft, however, are usually able to keep flying even when one engine has failed.

The head of Taiwan's civil aviation authority, Lin Tyh-ming, said the aircraft last underwent maintenance on January 26. The pilot had 4,916 hours of flying hours and the co-pilot had 6,922 hours, he said.

Taipei's Songshan airport, the smaller of the city's two airports, serves mostly domestic flights but also connections to Japan, China and South Korea.

A statement from China's Taiwan Affairs Office said 31 of those on board were tourists from the southeastern city of Xiamen, which lies close to Taiwan's Kinmen island.

The plane involved in Wednesday's crash was among the first of the ATR 72-600s, the latest variant of the turboprop aircraft, that TransAsia received in 2014 as part of an order of eight aircraft two years earlier.

The 72-seat aircraft are mainly used to connect the capital, Taipei, with smaller cities and islands.

(Reuters)