BEIJING — A Chinese passenger jet crashed while trying to land on a fog-shrouded runway in the country's northeast and burst into flames late, killing 42 people and injuring 54 others, state media said Wednesday.
The Henan Airlines plane with 91 passengers and five crew crashed late Tuesday in a grassy area near the Lindu airport on the outskirts of Yichun, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Five of those onboard were children, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said, but their fates were immediately not known.
The crash and subsequent fire were so severe that little of the fuselage remained, though the charred tail was still largely intact. China Central Television said eight of the victims were found 20 to 30 meters (65 to 100 feet) from the plane's wreckage in a muddy field.
The Brazilian-made Embraer E-190 jet had taken off from Heilongjiang's capital of Harbin shortly before 9 p.m. (1300 GMT) and crashed a little more than an hour later while arriving at Yichun, Xinhua said. Yichun is a city of about 1 million people located 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Russian border.
A middle-aged man who survived the crash told China Central Television there was bad turbulence as the plane descended, then several big jolts that caused the luggage to come crashing down from the overhead bins.
"After we stopped, the people in the back were panicking and rushed to the front," the unidentified man, who had no visible injuries, said in an interview from a hospital bed. "We were trying to open the (emergency exits) but they wouldn't open. Then the smoke came in ... within two or three minutes or even a minute, we couldn't breathe. I knew something bad was going to happen."
The man said he and a few others escaped from a hole in the wall of the cabin near the first row of seats, then ran from the burning wreckage.
CCTV showed firefighters dousing the burning plane with hoses and later digging through the wreckage of the jet.
Xinhua said early Wednesday that 43 bodies were recovered within hours of the disaster and 53 people were hospitalized, most with broken bones. It later changed the death toll to 42 with 54 injured. The Yichun city Communist Party published an online list of victims with 42 names.
Wang Xuemei, vice mayor of Yichun, told CCTV that three survivors were in critical condition but gave no details.
Xinhua quoted Hua Jingwei, an Yichun publicity official, as saying the jet broke into two pieces while approaching the runway and some passengers were thrown from the cabin before the plane hit the ground. His account could not be confirmed and accounts from survivors did not seem to indicate that the plane broke into two before the crash.
The plane's black box had not yet been found and the cause of the crash was not yet known, Xinhua said. But it reported that the Civil Aviation Administration of China held a meeting last year to discuss technical problems Chinese carriers had experienced with ERJ-190s jets, including incorrect information displayed by the flight control system.
Henan Airlines is based in the central Chinese province of the same name and flies smaller regional jets, mainly on routes in north and northeast China. Previously known as Kunpeng Airlines, the carrier was relaunched as Henan Airlines earlier this year.
Henan Airlines and many other regional Chinese airlines flying shorter routes have struggled in the past few years, losing passengers to high-speed railroad lines that China has aggressively expanded.
An American company, Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group Inc., was an original investor in Henan's predecessor company, Kunpeng, but divested its stake last year. Mesa operates regional services in the U.S. for Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and other carriers and is undergoing bankruptcy reorganization.
Full-tilt expansion of Chinese air traffic in the 1990s led to a series of crashes that gave China the reputation of being unsafe. The poor record prompted the government to improve safety drastically, from airlines to new air traffic management systems at airports.
The last major passenger jet crash in China was in November 2004, when an China Eastern airplane plunged into a lake in northern China shortly, killing all 53 on board and two on the ground.
An MD-11 cargo plane operated by Zimbabwe-based Avient Aviation crashed during takeoff from Shanghai's main airport last November. Three American crew members died while four others on board were injured. (AP)