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Air China Crash

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Jan 11, 2002
SEOUL (Reuters) - An Air China passenger aircraft plowed into a South Korean mountain in heavy rain and fog on Monday, killing many of the 166 people on board, but at least 39 survived, rescue officials said.

The crash comes just six weeks before the soccer World Cup finals are co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. South Korea expects as many as 60,000 Chinese soccer fans to visit to watch their country's first appearance in the tournament.

The Boeing 767 flying from Beijing, carrying mostly Korean people, crashed and broke into pieces near apartments as it struggled to land in the thick fog at Kimhae airport in Pusan, South Korea's second largest city, soon after 11:00 a.m. (10 p.m. EDT Sunday).

Television pictures showed rescue workers combing through smoking wreckage strewn amid trees on a foggy hillside, looking for survivors among the 155 passengers and 11 crew.

A Kimhae police official said the weather and rugged terrain were hampering rescue efforts, but firemen had extinguished burning debris at the crash site.

"I felt dizzy while I was in the plane and bowed my head, so don't know what happened. I didn't hear anything," said an elderly Korean woman passenger interviewed by YTN cable news television in a hospital. Her face was covered with blood.

Another bloodied victim wearing a neckbrace was seen being carried into hospital by piggyback.

YTN quoted South Korean transportation ministry officials as saying the plane, owned by China's largest airline, crashed while trying to land after air traffic controllers told it to take a detour due to bad weather.

Chinese state television said the plane had been redirected to Seoul because of the fog.

It was the first crash for Air China, Beijing's state-owned flag carrier, which is currently seeking a strategic airline investor as part of plans to go private and list on the stock exchange.


"The plane crashed into the mountain. No one on the ground was hurt," a Kimhae city official told Reuters by telephone.

He said the plane crashed into a 1,600-foot hillside near the city. Television reports said rescue efforts were hampered by fog, rain and smoke from the crash site.

Kimhae airport serves the port city of Pusan on the Sea of Japan, 325 km (200 miles) southeast of Seoul.

An Air China official told Reuters in Seoul 80 to 90 percent of the passengers were Korean.

An official at Seoul's domestic Kimpo airport said 38 flights from there to Ulsan, Pusan, Yeosu, Pohang and Mokpo and 42 flights from the cities to Kimpo had been canceled so far due to heavy rain and fog that had closed some airports in the south of the country.

More flights were expected to be canceled in the afternoon, the official said by telephone.

Air China had flown for 47 years without a crash at home or abroad, an official at the flag carrier told Reuters.

The airline is the largest air carrier in China in terms of traffic volume and company assets, according to Air China's Web Site.

Chinese regional airlines suffered a string of crashes in the early 1990s but have steadily improved their safety record since then.

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