China Airlines Flight 611

China Airlines Flight 611 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport (now Taoyuan International Airport) in Taiwan to Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong.

China Airlines Flight 611
B-18255, the aircraft involved, seen while on final approach at Hong Kong International Airport, in 2000.
Date25 May 2002 (2002-05-25)
SummaryIn-flight breakup and structural failure due to improper repairs following a tailstrike in 1980
SiteTaiwan Strait, 45 kilometers (28.1 miles) northeast off Penghu islands, Taiwan
23°59′23″N 119°40′45″E / 23.98972°N 119.67917°E / 23.98972; 119.67917
Aircraft typeBoeing 747-209B
OperatorChina Airlines
IATA flight No.CI611
ICAO flight No.CAL611
Call signDYNASTY 611
Flight originTaiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Taoyuan, Taiwan
DestinationHong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong

On 25 May 2002, the Boeing 747-209B operating the route disintegrated in midair and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, 23 nautical miles (26 mi; 43 km) northeast of the Penghu Islands, 20 minutes after takeoff, killing all 225 people on board. The in-flight break-up was caused by metal fatigue cracks resulting from improper repairs to the aircraft 22 years earlier.

The crash remains the deadliest in Taiwan, as well as the most recent accident with fatalities involving China Airlines, and the second-deadliest accident in China Airlines history, behind China Airlines Flight 140.

After the crash, China Airlines retired flight number 611. China Airlines continues to fly the Taipei-Hong Kong route under flight numbers 607, 923, 919, 915, 913, 909, 903, 601 and 921 as of May 2024. Since the 747 is no longer in China Airlines' passenger fleet, China Airlines utilises an Airbus A321neo, a Boeing 737 NG and an Airbus A330-300 on these routes.[1]

Aircraft edit

The aircraft involved, registered as B-18255, (originally registered as B-1866), MSN 21843, was the only Boeing 747-200 passenger aircraft left in China Airlines's fleet at the time. The plane had its maiden flight on 16 July 1979 and was delivered to the airline on 31 July. The aircraft had logged more than 64,800 hours of flight time at the time of the accident. The plane was equipped with 4 Pratt and Whitney JT9D-7AW engines and had a 355-seat configuration.[2][3][4][5][6] Prior to the crash, China Airlines had sold B-18255 to Orient Thai Airlines for US$1.45 million. The accident flight was to be the aircraft's penultimate flight for China Airlines, as it was scheduled to be delivered to Orient Thai Airlines after its return flight from Hong Kong to Taipei. After the crash, the contract to sell the aircraft was voided and Orient Thai replaced it with another 747.[7] Only four passenger 747-200s were delivered to China Airlines, all from 1979 to 1980. The other three had been in full passenger service until 1999 when they were converted to freighters. They were immediately grounded by the ROC's Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) after the crash for maintenance checks.[8][9][10]

Flight and disaster edit

The flight took off at 15:08 local time (07:08 UTC), and was scheduled to arrive at Hong Kong at 16:28 Hong Kong Time (08:28 UTC). The flight crew consisted of 51-year-old Captain Yi Ching-Fong,[note 1] 52-year-old First Officer Shieh Yea Shyong,[note 2] and 54-year-old Flight Engineer Chao Sen Kuo.[note 3][11][12] All three pilots were highly experienced – both pilots had more than 10,100 hours of flying time and the flight engineer had logged more than 19,100 flight hours.[13]: 3 

At 15:16, the flight was cleared to climb to flight level 350—about 35,000 feet (11,000 m). At 15:33, contact with the plane was lost.[7][14] Chang Chia-juch, the Taiwanese Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications at that time, said that two Cathay Pacific aircraft in the area received B-18255's emergency location-indicator signals.[15] All 206 passengers and 19 crew members on board the aircraft died.[16]

Passengers edit

The passengers included Taiwanese politician You Jih-cheng.[17] and two reporters from the United Daily News.[15] Most of the passengers, 114 people, were members of a Taiwanese group tour to the mainland organized by four travel agencies.[18]

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
Taiwan 190 19 209
China 9 0 9
Hong Kong 5 0 5
Singapore 1 0 1
Switzerland 1 0 1
Total 206 19 225

Of the 225 passengers and crew on board, remains of 175 were recovered and identified. The first 82 bodies were found floating on the ocean surface of the Taiwan Strait, and were recovered by fishing boats and military vessels. Contracted recovery vessels were subsequently used for the recovery of the aircraft wreckage and the remaining bodies.[19]: 69 

The victims were identified by visual identification, personal effects, fingerprints, dental examinations, and through DNA testing. Only the three recovered flight crew member bodies were autopsied. The victims' bodies were photographed and their clothing and possessions were cataloged and returned to the victims' families. The victims' records, including body diagrams, injury protocols, photographs, and other documents related to the recovery and identification of the individuals were then correlated for each identified victim.[19]: 69 

Most of the victims had extensive injuries consistent with head trauma, tibia and fibula fractures, significant back abrasions, and pelvic injuries. Most of the bodies were nearly intact except, in some cases, for fractured bones. Some of the victims had expansion of lung tissue, subcutaneous emphysema, and bleeding of the nose and mouth.[19]: 70  No carbon remains were found on any of the recovered bodies or their clothes, and no sign of fire, burning, or blast damage was found.[19]: 70, 72 

Search, recovery and investigation edit

B-18255 seat-plan:
  Empty seat
  Not recovered
Around 1995, China Airlines started to ban smoking on board. Cabin pressurization forced the smoke out through the cracks. Over time, the smoke left the tar stains outside the plane. These stains were an indication of possible hidden cracks beneath the doubler plate, which means that the cracks had been there long before 1995.

At 17:05, a military Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft spotted a crashed airliner 23 nautical miles (26 mi; 43 km) northeast of Makung, Penghu Islands. Oil slicks were also spotted at 17:05; the first body was found at 18:10.

No distress signal or communication was sent out prior to the crash.[20] Radar data suggest that the aircraft broke into four pieces while at FL 350. This theory is supported by the fact that some lighter articles that would have been found inside the aircraft were found up to 80 miles (70 nmi; 130 km) from the crash site at villages in central Taiwan. The items included magazines, documents, luggage, photographs, New Taiwan dollars, aircraft safety cards[21] and a China Airlines-embossed, blood-stained pillow case.[22][23]

The plane was supposed to be leveling off then, as it approached its cruising altitude of 35,000 ft (11,000 m). Shortly before the breakup, two of the aircraft's four engines began providing slightly higher thrust, which was later found to have been within the normal ranges of deviation. All four engines were recovered from the sea and found not to have suffered any malfunction prior to the crash. Pieces of the aircraft were found in the ocean and on Taiwan, including in the city of Changhua.[24][25]

The governments of Taiwan and the People's Republic of China co-operated in the recovery of the aircraft; the Chinese allowed personnel from Taiwan to search for bodies and aircraft fragments in those parts of the Taiwan Strait controlled by the People's Republic of China.[7][26]

China Airlines requested relatives to submit blood samples for DNA testing at the Criminal Investigation Bureau of National Police Administration (now National Police Agency) and two other locations.[27]

The United Daily News stated that some relatives of passengers described the existence of this flight to Hong Kong as being "unnecessary". Most of the passengers intended to arrive in mainland China, but because of a lack of direct air links between Taiwan and mainland China, the travelers had to fly via Hong Kong; the relatives advocated the opening of direct air links between Taiwan and mainland China,[26] which was eventually realized.

Cause edit

The final investigation report found that the accident was the result of fatigue cracking caused by inadequate maintenance after a much earlier tailstrike incident. On 7 February 1980, the aircraft was flying from Stockholm Arlanda Airport to Taoyuan International Airport via King Abdulaziz International Airport and Kai Tak International Airport as China Airlines Flight 009 (Callsign "DYNASTY 009"). While landing in Hong Kong, part of the plane's tail had scraped along the runway.[19]: 10  The aircraft was depressurized, ferried back to Taiwan on the same day, and a temporary repair done the day after.[19]: 11  A more permanent repair was conducted by a team from China Airlines from 23 May through 26 May 1980.[19]: 12 

The permanent repair of the tailstrike was not carried out in accordance with the Boeing Structural Repair Manual (SRM).[19]: 157–158  According to the SRM, repairs could be made by replacing the entire affected skin or by cutting out the damaged portion and installing a reinforcing doubler plate to restore the structural strength.[19]: 60–61  Rather than following the SRM, the China Airlines team installed a doubler over the damaged skin.[19]: 160 

Though the kind of damage inflicted on the tail was far beyond the damage that a doubler plate is meant to fix, this accident probably would not have occurred had the doubler been installed properly. This would mean that all of the scratches would be completely contained by the innermost row of fasteners, and the fasteners themselves would be strong enough to stop the propagation of any new and existing fatigue cracks. However, the doubler that was installed on the aircraft was too small, so it failed to completely and effectively cover the damaged area, as scratches were found at, and outside, the outermost row of fasteners securing the doubler.[19]: 74–80  Installing the doubler with scratches remaining outside the rivets provided no protection against the propagation of any concealed cracks beneath the doubler, or worse, in the area between its perimeter and the rows of rivets.[19]: 159 

Consequently, after repeated cycles of pressurization and depressurization during flight, cracks began to form around the exposed scratches until finally, on 25 May 2002, coincidentally 22 years to the day after the faulty repair was made on the damaged tail, the hull broke open in midair. A rapid decompression occurred once the crack opened up, causing the separation of the aircraft's fuselage at section 46 (aft of the main wingbox).[19]: 156 [28] The remainder of the aircraft forward of section 46 entered an abrupt descent, causing all four engines to separate from the wings near-simultaneously, as the engine fuse pins failed at about 29,000 feet (8,800 m). After this point, the wings and fuselage forward of the initial breakpoint remained connected until impact with the sea.

This was not the first time that a 747 had crashed because of a faulty repair following a tailstrike. On 12 August 1985, 17 years before Flight 611's crash and 7 years after the accident aircraft's repair, Japan Air Lines Flight 123 from Tokyo to Osaka with 524 people on board had crashed when the vertical stabilizer was torn off and the hydraulic systems severed by explosive decompression, leaving only four survivors. That crash had been attributed to a faulty repair to the rear pressure bulkhead, which had been damaged in 1978 in a tailstrike incident.[29] In both crashes, a doubler plate was not installed according to Boeing standards.

China Airlines disputed much of the report, stating that investigators did not find the pieces of the aircraft that would prove the contents of the investigation report.[30] One piece of evidence during the investigation that came up was the discoloration on the damaged section from photographs from maintenance records. The discoloration was determined to be tar stains that came out from smoking, which was allowed onboard until 1995. Had the stains been investigated, the cracks in the fuselage would have been determined, and the plane would have probably avoided the fateful flight.[31]

Dramatization edit

The accident was featured in a season 7 episode of the Canadian documentary Mayday titled "Scratching the Surface".[21]

See also edit

Notes edit

Transliterations edit

  1. ^ Yi Ching-Fong: 易清豐; Yì Qīngfēng; I Cingfong
  2. ^ Shieh Yea Shyong: 謝亞雄; Xiè Yàxióng; Syieh Yasyong
  3. ^ Chao Sen Kuo: 趙盛國; Zhào Shèngguó; Jhao Shengkuo

References edit

  1. ^ "Flight Finder ✈ Taiwan Taoyuan Int'l (RCTP) - Hong Kong Int'l (VHHH)". FlightAware. Retrieved 3 May 2024.
  2. ^ "China Airlines". Archived from the original on 4 August 2002. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  3. ^ Marshall, Tyler; Tsai, Ting-I (26 May 2002). "Jet Crashes Off Taiwan With 225 People Aboard". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  4. ^ "B-18255 China Airlines Boeing 747-200". Plane Spotters. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  5. ^ "China Airlines B-18255 (Boeing 747 - MSN 21843) (Ex B-1866)". Airfleets aviation. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  6. ^ "B-18255 Seat Plan". International Aviation Safety Association. Archived from the original on 11 May 2019. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Bhandari, Amit; Ananthanarayanan, Ravi (26 May 2002). "Catastrophic failure, but how?". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 16 August 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2009. All but one of the 225 persons on board the plane were Chinese. Most were from Taiwan, while others came from China, Hong Kong, Macau, or Singapore. The only non-Chinese foreigner was Swiss, identified by The Taipei Times "as a Mr Luigi Heer."
  8. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 747-209B B-18255". Aviation Safety Network. Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  9. ^ Bradsher, Keith (27 May 2002). "Taiwan Airliner Broke Apart in Midair, Investigators Say". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  10. ^ "China Airlines Boeing 747s from 1985-1999". Plane Spotters. Archived from the original on 24 September 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  11. ^ "News update of China Airlines CI611 Flight". China Airlines. 25 May 2002. Archived from the original on 6 August 2002. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  12. ^ "Version time: 2002/05/28 PM 02:00 CI 611 / 25 May". China Airlines. 28 May 2002. Archived from the original on 6 August 2002. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  13. ^ "In-Flight Breakup Over the Taiwan Strait Northeast of Makung, Penghu Island, China Airlines Flight CI611, Boeing 747-200, B-18255, May 25, 2002" (PDF). Aviation Occurrence Report. 2. Taipei, Taiwan: Aviation Safety Council. 25 February 2005. ASC-AOR-05-02-001. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  14. ^ Bradsher, Keith (25 May 2002). "Taiwanese Airliner With 225 Aboard Crashes in Sea". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  15. ^ a b Low, Stephanie; Yu-jung, Chang (26 May 2002). "CAL 747 crashes with 225 aboard". Taipei Times. All 19 crew members, as well as 190 passengers on board, were Taiwanese, including two United Daily News reporters and a former legislator. In addition to 14 Hong Kong, Macau, and Chinese residents, foreign passengers also included one Singaporean, identified as Sim Yong-joo, and one Swiss, identified as Luigi Heer.
  16. ^ Chinoy, Mike (25 May 2002). "All 225 feared dead in Taiwan air crash". CNN. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  17. ^ "前立委游日正改行程 搭上死亡班機" [Former legislator changes his itinerary during a trip to Japan to catch the death flight]. Liberty Times (in Chinese). 26 May 2002. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  18. ^ "Taiwan's Tragic Air Crash Kills 225 People". People's Daily. 26 May 2002. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "In-Flight Breakup Over the Taiwan Strait Northeast of Makung, Penghu Island, China Airlines Flight CI611, Boeing 747-200, B-18255, May 25, 2002" (PDF). Aviation Occurrence Report. 1 (ASC-AOR-05-02-001). Taipei, Taiwan: Aviation Safety Council. 25 February 2005. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  20. ^ "China missile ruled out in Taiwan crash". CNN. 27 May 2002. – Version with full pictures: [1]
  21. ^ a b "Mayday Season 7, Episode 1, "Scratching The Surface"". Mayday (Canadian TV series). Cineflix Productions.
  22. ^ "Military aviation expert says flaws in Taiwan plane crash theory: report". The Namibian. 8 July 2002. Archived from the original on 19 April 2003. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  23. ^ "78 Bodies From Crashed Taiwanese Plane Retrieved". Xinhua News Agency. 26 May 2002. Retrieved 3 May 2009.[dead link]
  24. ^ "Relatives fly to Taiwan crash site". BBC News. BBC. 26 May 2002.
  25. ^ Gittings, John (25 May 2002). "225 dead in mystery Taiwan crash". The Guardian. The Observer. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  26. ^ a b Lam, Willy Wo-Lap (27 May 2002). "Crash brings Taiwan, China together". CNN. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
  27. ^ "NEWS UPDATE OF B18255 INCIDENT (6)." China Airlines Archived 4 August 2002 at the Wayback Machine 4 August 2002.
  28. ^ "Cracks blamed for 2002 China Airlines crash". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 25 February 2005. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  29. ^ "Boeing admits bad work on ill-fated Japanese Boeing 747". Star-News. 8 September 1985. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  30. ^ "China Airlines Statement on CI 611 Accident Investigation Report" (Press release). China Airlines. 25 February 2005. Archived from the original on 1 March 2005. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  31. ^ "Taiwan's Deadliest Plane Crash China Airlines Flight 611 Disintegrates - Mayday".

External links edit

Aviation Safety Council

China Airlines