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Safety questions raised after China plane crash

The tail-end wreckage of the Henan Airlines ERJ-190 jet made by Brazilian company Embraer which was carrying 96 people sits smoldering after it slammed into the ground on landing in the northeast city of Yichun in remote Heilongjiang province on August 25, 2010. The Chinese airliner smashed into two pieces while trying to land in heavy fog, leaving at least 42 people dead but 54 survivors in the country's first major air disaster in nearly six years. Photo courtesy AFP.

Embraer wary of reputation in wake of China crash: experts
Sao Paulo (AFP) Aug 25, 2010 - Brazil's aircraft maker Embraer is in damage-limitation mode following the crash of one of its planes in China, experts told AFP Wednesday. The company, the third-biggest commercial aviation manufacturer in the world whose success has made it one of the symbols of Brazil's economic boom, is concerned at potential damage to its image in the wake of the crash of the ERJ-190 plane owned by China's Henan Airline. The airliner hit the earth violently and burst into flames Tuesday as it came in to land at a northern Chinese airport in heavy fog, killing 42 people and injuring 54.

Chinese officials have launched an investigation, and Embraer has dispatched a team of technicians to help with the probe. Although blame has not yet been apportioned, fears that mechanical problems might emerge drove Embraer shares down 3.87 percent on the day of the accident. On Wednesday, they remained at that level as investors took a wait-and-see position. China's state news agency Xinhua said Chinese carriers had complained of other ERJ-190s having problems, notably broken turbine plates and flight control system errors. Henan Airlines has grounded three of the four other ERJ-190s it operates on other routes until further notice. Jose Lapena, a Brazilian expert in corporate image management, said Embraer's market value would only rise if the company made a serious effort at communication.

"What happens in the case of an air accident is that, as long as the cause is unknown, everybody remains worried," he said. "Embraer needs to quickly establish communication with its clients." He stressed that, if mechanical failure was pointed to, Embraer should display "total transparency." Such a strategy has worked in the past for Boeing and Airbus whenever they lost a plane, he noted. Embraer was focusing much of its attention on the fall-out from the crash. A spokesman told AFP, "this is the first time (an Embraer plane) has been involved in a fatal accident." The company declined to comment on the Chinese reports of previous problems with Embraer jets being raised, saying only that it was customary for it to receive feedback from clients to improve its products.

Jorge Eduardo Leal Medeiros, a professor in engineering and transport at Sao Paulo University, stressed that Embraer planes "are considered safe" and are duly certified airworthy in Brazil, Europe and the United States. He said among the possible causes were equipment failure -- "which I don't think was the case" -- a maintenance shortcoming -- "which remains to be determined" -- or pilot error -- "that, we still don't know." The poor weather could also have had a role. Medeiros recalled an accident in Brazil in 1999 in which an Embraer plane, an ERJ-145, broke into three parts during a rough landing. There were no fatalities and authorities put it down to a mistake by the pilot. A total of 30 ERJ-190s are in operation in China, Embraer said, adding it had sold five to Henan Airlines, including the one that crashed. The Brazilian company has a factory in southeast China where it makes ERJ-145s, a small plane with a 50-seat capacity.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 25, 2010
Investigators Wednesday sifted through the charred wreckage of a Brazilian-made Chinese airliner for clues on why it crashed while trying to land in heavy fog, killing 42 people and injuring 54.

Following the crash, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao called for sweeping inspections throughout the country's passenger air network to "eliminate any safety risks", Xinhua news agency reported.

The government promised a thorough but speedy probe into China's first major air disaster in nearly six years, amid reports of past technical problems with the model of jet involved -- a twin-engine ERJ-190 made by Brazil's Embraer.

Survivors of the crash in a remote part of northeast China late Tuesday described terrifying jolts before the Henan Airlines domestic flight slammed into the ground, leaving a long trail of crumpled metal burning in the dark.

The black box flight data recorders were recovered near Lindu airport in the northeast city of Yichun where the Henan ERJ-190, which was carrying 91 passengers and five crew, crashed.

The Beijing Youth Daily reported that a bigger airline, China Southern, suspended all night flights in and out of Lindu airport in September 2009 -- just days after the facility opened for business -- because of safety concerns.

An official from the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) said the black boxes would be sent to Beijing for analysis, but added it was "hard to say" when the results would be available.

Officials were hoping to glean information from the recorders and from the plane's captain, who survived the crash but has so far been unable to speak owing to severe facial injuries, Xinhua reported.

The city's Communist party chief Xu Zhaojun said the captain had communicated with air traffic controllers shortly before the crash, saying he could "see lights on the runway and was ready for landing," Xinhua reported.

All Henan Airlines flights have been suspended while safety reviews are carried out, Xinhua said, adding that it was not known when services would resume.

Lindu airport -- located in a forested area about nine kilometres (five miles) outside Yichun -- was closed on Wednesday, Xinhua said.

"The plane really started to jolt in a scary way -- the plane jolted five or six times very strongly," one male survivor told China Central Television from his hospital bed, describing scenes of panic as passengers tried to escape.

A second male survivor interviewed by CCTV -- his head bandaged and his nose bloodied -- also said he felt a "big jolt" as the plane was coming in to land and heard "big crashes -- bam bam bam".

Rescuers on Wednesday transferred the victims' bodies wrapped in silver bags to funeral homes for identification, Xinhua said.

Five children injured in the crash were in a critical condition, Xinhua reported.

Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang visited the survivors in local hospitals, many of whom reportedly suffered broken bones, and "demanded a quick investigation" into the cause of the crash, Xinhua said.

State television said a preliminary probe had ruled out any intentional wrongdoing, as well as any mid-air explosions or fires.

Provincial police said visibility was less than 300 metres (330 yards) at the time of the crash due to heavy fog.

Xinhua said Chinese carriers using ERJ-190s had previously reported technical problems, and that the CAAC called a workshop in June 2009 to discuss the issues.

Notes from the meeting -- which involved Kunpeng Airlines, as Henan Airlines was previously known -- showed that broken turbine plates and flight control system errors were among the problems, Xinhua said.

Embraer offered its condolences to the victims' families and said it had sent a team of technicians to help with the investigation.

The crash occurred just after 9:30 pm (1330 GMT) on Tuesday, around 40 minutes after the plane took off from Harbin, the capital of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

Henan Airlines, which mainly operates in north and northeast China, had only launched the Harbin-Yichun route two weeks ago, Xinhua said.

The airline's general manager Li Qiang was sacked on Wednesday, Xinhua said, citing CAAC sources.

Among those on board the crashed jet were 18 officials from China's Ministry of Human Resources including vice-minister Sun Baoshu, who was in serious condition.

A passenger from Taiwan suffered minor injuries with burns to his back but was recovering, officials from the island said.

It was China's first major air disaster since a China Eastern Airlines jet crashed in Inner Mongolia in November 2004, killing 53 people on board and two on the ground.

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42 dead in China plane crash
Beijing (AFP) Aug 25, 2010
A Chinese airliner crashed and burst into flames while attempting to land in northeast China, killing 42 people on board, state media reported on Wednesday. The Henan Airlines plane broke into two pieces late Tuesday before it smashed into the ground while trying to touch down at an airport in the city of Yichun in remote Heilongjiang province, the official Xinhua news agency said. There ... read more

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