Another 11 people were injured when the ATR-72 operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways crashed on Penghu, an island in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China, Transport Minister Yeh Kuang-shih was quoted as saying by the government's Central News Agency. The plane was arriving from Kaohsiung, a city in southern Taiwan.
The twin-engine turboprop plane crashed while making a second landing attempt with a total of 58 passengers and crew members aboard, according to Yeh.
President Ma Ying-jeou called it "a very sad day in the history of Taiwanese aviation" and ordered authorities to quickly clarify the details, said a spokesman for his office, Ma Wei-kuo, the news agency reported.
The plane crashed in the village of Xixi outside the airport. Photos in local media showed firefighters using flashlights to look at wreckage in the darkness, and buildings and cars damaged by debris.
About 200 military personnel were sent to help recover the people who were on the plane, Taiwanese Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he said, according to the Central News Agency.
The ministry said military vehicles and ambulances were rushing people to hospitals and an air force rescue team was on standby to transfer survivors to Taiwan's main island if needed for treatment, the agency reported.
The flight left Kaohsiung at 4:53 p.m. for Magong on Penghu, according to the head of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration, Jean Shen. The plane lost contact with the tower at 7:06 p.m. after saying it would make a second landing attempt.
Visibility as the plane approached was 1,600 meters (one mile), which met standards for landing, and two flights had landed before GE222, one at 5:34 p.m. and the other at 6:57 p.m., the aviation agency reported. Shen said the plane was 14 years old.
But the Central News Agency, citing the county fire department, said it appeared heavy rain reduced visibility and the pilot was forced to pull up and make the second landing attempt. The news agency had earlier quoted a local fire chief as saying 51 people had been killed.
Taiwan was battered by Typhoon Matmo overnight Tuesday, and the Central Weather Bureau warned of heavy rain Wednesday evening, even after the center of the storm had moved west to mainland China.
TransAsia Airways' general manager, Hsu Yi-Tsung, bowed deeply before reporters and tearfully apologized for the accident, the Central News Agency said.
Hsu said the carrier was arranging to take the relatives of passengers on the flight to Magong on Thursday morning and that it would spare no effort in the rescue and in handling the aftermath, the report said.
Taiwan's last major aviation disaster also was near Penghu. A China Airlines Boeing 747 broke apart in midair in 2002 and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 people aboard.
In October 2013, a Lao Airlines ATR-72 crashed during a heavy storm as it approached Pakse Airport in southern Laos, killing all 49 people on board.
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