China Air 747-200 (CI-611)

Following seemingly total confusion about HOW LONG CI611 was into its flight from Taipei to HK when the inflight breakup occurred (variously reported as 19 to 40 mins), I am now reliably informed that their take-off clnc was acknowledged at 1508:33 GMT and their final communication was 1516:30 GMT (acknowledgement of further climb clearance to Flight Level 350 - from about FL200, with a climb restriction of FL260 being removed). They had reported passing 18,700ft at 1516:18.
At 15:29 a seemingly standard freq change call was made for CI611 to chop to Taipei Control 128.7mhz. It's not known whether this call to the a/c was precipitated by Taipei radar observing any transponder loss or breakup of the primary echo from the a/c - but I suspect that it was. Military radar have a clear sequence of the breakup beginning just before that call - at time 1528:08... giving a flight time of about 19.5 mins (icw TWA800's 16.5mins). However a barometrically triggered IED could also have been triggered in the climb. Mil Radar Contact was lost with the falling debris just after 1532. Much lighter debris floated inland and was found in farmer's fields. Supposedly some bodies recovered from the sea show burn injuries and some debris shows "blast" damage (but wind-blast or explosive? - that isn't clear).
It has been observed (from the radar plot) that there were some pretty crazy altitude and heading deviations commencing around 15:28.43 - 2,200 feet UP in a 12 second period to 1,800 feet DOWN in the next 12 seconds, accompanied by heading changes of up to 180 degrees. The conclusion was that these altitude, airspeed and heading deviations were indicative of an encounter with severe weather and a possible engine(s) flame out. I think that it's far more likely that the Taiwanese Military Radar was painting the larger objects each sweep (that were presenting flat surfaces to the radar head). Because the objects would have been tumbling, the next sweep would have picked up and "painted" different objects in slightly different positions - so any conclusions as to changing trajectories of the aircraft are likely quite invalid. It can be best interpreted only as an inflight breakup - that occurred at about 1528:08.
The timing is quite similar after take-off to TWA800 and the surface temperatures were in the 90 deg Fahrenheit range. Departure at 14:50 would be at the high point of the day's temperature cycle. (I believe that they were running about 10 minutes behind schedule). It is therefore looking very very similar to TWA800's CWT event from an environmental, timing and altitude climbed point of view (particularly as it was only a short flight 98 minute flight - and the CWT would have been empty).
When you review previous high altitude 747 accidents:
The four previous 747 hull losses that began while the aircraft was apparently at FL 300 or higher were: KAL007 (shot down); AI 182 (bomb); PA103 (bomb); SAA 295 (Combi) (fire in a freight container being carried on main deck). UA 811 was at FL 230 when the cargo door ripped away, taking a large section of fuselage skin with it.

The Ukrainian surface to air missile that brought down Air Sibir 1812 was supposedly fired from a position 250 km. distant. Short of a missile, cargo door, bomb or TWA800 replay there are very few things that could bring down a 747, even a thrust reverser event on an outboard engine is supposedly "no biggie". An explosive decompression is not normally explosive in the sense of causing any breakup. However if the pressurisation was fouled up and they lost pressurisation quickly (i.e. 2 pilot + FE crew passed out due to not getting on oxygen quickly, or oxygen not being available) the ensuing loss of (pilot) control would quickly cause a catastrophic breakup. A wiring-fire related event is not looking likely at this point as I believe that the transponder signal loss occurred at about the time of the breakup.
I wonder if section 41 termination work had been carried out on this aeroplane.....or repairs to the aft pressure bulkhead? Supposedly all AD's and SB's required by Boeing had been carried out prior to the airframe passing on to its new owner after this flight (Thai International). I'd imagine that would include the FQIS mod.

NTSB Urgently advocates fuel tank inerting

China missile ruled out in Taiwan crash

May 27, 2002 Posted: 4:36 AM EDT (0836 GMT)

Taiwan rescue transfer
Rescue workers transfer to a coast guard vessel a body found off the coast at the harbour of the Taiwan island of Penghu

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- As Taiwan investigators sifted through wreckage of a China Airlines jet to try to find out why it fell apart at over 30,000 feet, the military dismissed speculation it may have been hit by a Chinese missile.

After two days of searching the rough waters of the Taiwan Strait, investigators have few answers about why a China Airlines 747, carrying 225 people, crashed into the sea.

Taiwan's aviation officials say they will ground all remaining models of the plane, a Boeing 747-200, until the cause of the crash is determined.

Authorities say the plane broke into four pieces before dropping off radar screens.

"We are very certain the plane disintegrated while above 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)," Kay Yong, managing director of Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council, told a news conference.

A Taiwan military spokesman dismissed speculation that a Chinese missile may have hit the aircraft.

Investigators continue to determine the cause of the crash. Mike Chinoy reports
2.95 MB / 2 mins 20 secs
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Mainland joins Taiwan recovery effort 
Crash deals blow to China Airlines 
China Airlines' troubled history 
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Gallery: Taiwan tragedy 

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"Communist China has denied it. We think its denial is highly credible," the spokesman told Reuters news agency, responding to a report on cable news network Formosa TV which quoted an unidentified military analyst as saying a Chinese missile may be to blame.

"Based on our own judgment, we can also say it's absolutely impossible," the spokesman said, adding that Taiwan's military was not conducting any exercises or missile-testing in the area at the time of the crash.

Taipei and Beijing have been bitter rivals since their split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing views the democratic island as a breakaway province that must be returned to the fold, by force if necessary.

Flight CI 611 crashed en route from Taipei to Hong Kong. Officials say they hold little hope of finding any survivors.

The 22-year-old plane was carrying 19 crew members and 206 passengers when it disappeared off radar screens about 20 minutes after taking off at around 3:00 p.m. (0700 GMT) from Taiwan's Chiang Kai-shek International Airport.

Aviation officials said there was no sign of previous mechanical trouble, no sign of foul play and the weather was clear at the time of the crash.

Rough seas swelling to three meters (10 feet) are hindering search and recovery teams combing the waters of the crash site near the Penghu island group, also known as the Pescadores, about 50 km (30 miles) off Taiwan's west coast.

Fishing boats and naval vessels have so far plucked about 80 bodies and several pieces of wreckage from the rough waters.

Relatives of the victims have been flown to a nearby island where a makeshift morgue has been set up.

China Airlines official Wang Cheng-yu said most of the passengers were from Taiwan but there were two from Singapore, 14 from Hong Kong, Macau or China and one from Europe.

Data recorder signals

Frogmen were on Monday getting ready to recover the airliner's flight recorders, located in about 50 meters of water.

"Now that we know the location of the black boxes, we should be able to retrieve them today," said an official at the government's emergency response centre.

Aviation authorities say the pilot had not issued any distress signals before the plane disappeared off radar screens, leading to the suggestion that disaster struck Flight CI 611 quickly.

The weather was cloudy when the plane took off, but conditions were not extreme, authorities said.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that most of the bodies recovered have been intact and do not appear to be charred, suggesting there may not have been an explosion on board.

U.S. crash investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been dispatched to Taiwan to help local investigators try to determine the cause of the crash.

Terrorism ruled out

A former NTSB expert says it is significant that there was no distress signal before the plane disappeared from radar screens.

The son of a victim in the crash breaks down while holding his father's portrait during a makeshift memorial on the Taiwan island of Penghu
The son of a victim in the crash breaks down while holding his father's portrait during a makeshift memorial on the Taiwan island of Penghu

"It doesn't rule out the possibility that something else happened to the airplane and that the pilot lost control and the aircraft broke apart," Former NTSB Vice Chairman Robert Francis told CNN.

Investigators said there's no suggestion at this point that terrorism was in any way involved, and that their probe centers on mechanical or technical problems with the plane.

Speculation is rife in local media that the accident may have been caused by problems with wiring and cables due to the plane's advanced age.

The crash is also being compared with the TWA 800 disaster in 1996, when a Boeing 747 bound for Paris exploded shortly after takeoff from New York's Long Island, killing all 230 people on board.

Investigators there have concluded provisionally that an electrical spark ignited a partly empty fuel tank causing an explosion.

Last flight

The China Airlines crash is the fourth fatal crash for Taiwan's leading carrier in the last decade. (Full story)

The plane was one of the oldest planes in the China Airlines fleet. The flight was supposed to have been the plane's last journey before being sold to a chartered carrier in Thailand.

A relatives prays as she waits of news of the victims
A relatives prays as she waits of news of the victims

China Airlines was considered one of the world's most dangerous airlines after a series of crashes in the 1990s.

In recent years, it has put more emphasis on safety.

"We feel so deeply sorry for this incident," China Airlines general manager David Fei said at a news conference. "Safety is our top priority."

The last known fatal China Airlines accident occurred in 1999 when a passenger jet flipped over and burst into flames during a crash landing in Hong Kong. Three people were killed.

-- CNN Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy contributed to this report


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