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Investigators study China Airlines ground fire debris

Date Posted: 2007-08-23

Teams of investigators Wednesday sifted through the charred hulk of a China Airlines Boeing jetliner again Wednesday, two days after the plane with 165 aboard exploded and burst into flames at Naha International Airport Monday, only minutes after landing.
Taiwanese, American and Japanese investigators were studying the Boeing 737-800’s right wing and the pylon holding the engine to it. Naha ground crew reportedly saw fuel leaking from the area immediately before the plane caught fire. One crewman told investigators the fuel was already leaking from the support pylon as the plane was taxiing to its parking slot at the International Terminal following a flight from Taipei.
The 157 passengers were evacuated on emergency chutes moments before the aircraft burst into flames and exploded. Eight flight crew also escaped, with the Captain, Yu Chien-kuo, last out by jumping from a cockpit window. He told reporters in Taipei his mind went blank in the tumultuous moments, and that his concern was getting the passengers and crew to safety. Video footage shows Yu flinging himself from the cockpit only seconds before the plane exploded and burned in half. His flight deck captain, Kang Li-mei, had seen to the evacuation, and once Yu saw all were safe, he ordered Kang and the co-pilot out of the burning aircraft. “I really can’t describe what I was feeling,” he said.
China Airlines late Tuesday night painted over the corporate flower seal on the tail of the wreckage, and also the airline name on the side. The plane is cordoned off, but still visible to observers. The airline had asked permission from the Aircraft Accident Investigation Committee, part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The committee, convinced the paint job wouldn’t hamper its investigation, gave the okay.
Boeing, which manufactures the 737-800, has told airlines worldwide the problems with Monday’s explosion and fire are not a manufacturing problem. Boeing is cooperating with Japanese and Taiwanese investigators. The engines on the China Airlines plane were manufactured for Boeing by a French company, CFM International. Japanese authorities say all 23 planes using the CFM engines have been inspected and found safe.
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport officials say it’s too early in the investigation to determine if the fire was caused by the engine or fuel line, or whether anything was sucked into the engine as it was landing. They say no fuel was found on the tarmac apron, or along the route taken by Flight CI-120 from the runway to its parking space.

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