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Thursday Jul 24, 2014

Taiwan plane crash toll hits 48, officials defend flight clearance

MAGONG: Taiwanese officials Thursday defended flight clearance given to a plane which crashed while trying to land during stormy weather, killing 48 people, as sobbing relatives gathered to identify their loved ones.

Flight GE222 was carrying 54 passengers and four crew members on a domestic flight when it crashed on Wednesday at Magong on the Penghu island chain, with ten surviving the disaster.

Two French medical students were among the dead, the foreign ministry in Paris said.

The ATR 72-500 was flying from the southwestern city of Kaohsiung to the islands off the west coast and had been delayed by bad weather as Typhoon Matmo pounded Taiwan, according to authorities.

It was trying to land for a second time after aborting the first attempt during thunder and heavy rain, crashing into two houses near Magong airport and injuring five people on the ground, officials said.

Questions have been raised about why the flight was allowed to go ahead so soon after the typhoon.

"Many people were questioning why the plane took off in typhoon weather... according to my understanding the meteorology data showed that it met the aviation safety requirements," transport minister Yeh Kuang-shih told reporters. Officials said that two planes had landed safely at Magong airport shortly before the disaster.

On Thursday, the scattered remains of the plane could be seen as more than 100 rescuers -- including firefighters and soldiers -- worked to remove bodies and debris from the scene.

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