China Airlines Flight 611
|Date||25 May 2002|
|Summary||In-flight break-up resulting from maintenance error|
|Site||20 nautical miles (37 km) northeast of Makung, Penghu Islands, Taiwan Strait|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747-209B|
|Flight origin||Chiang Kai-shek Int'l Airport|
|Destination||Hong Kong International Airport|
China Airlines Flight 611 (CAL 611, CI 611, callsign Dynasty 611) was a regularly scheduled flight from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport (now Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport) in Taoyuan to Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong. On 25 May 2002, the Boeing 747-209B operating the route disintegrated in mid-air and crashed into the Taiwan Strait just 20 minutes after taking off, killing all 225 people on board. The cause of the crash was improper repairs to the aircraft 22 years earlier. As of 2013, it remains the most recent accident involving a Boeing 747 to result in passenger fatalities.
The accident was particularly disturbing to the public because the Taipei–Hong Kong route was and is to this day one of the most heavily-traveled air routes on Earth; it is so profitable that it is even referred to as the "Golden Route."
- 1 Flight and disaster
- 2 Passengers
- 3 Nationalities of the passengers
- 4 Search, recovery and investigation
- 5 Metal fatigue
- 6 Flight number
- 7 Aircraft history
- 8 Dramatization
- 9 See also
- 10 Footnotes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Flight and disaster
The flight on Saturday, 25 May 2002 took off at 14:50 local time and was expected to arrive at Hong Kong at 16:28. The flight crew consisted of 51-year-old Captain Ching-Fong Yi (traditional Chinese: 易清豐; simplified Chinese: 易清丰; pinyin: Yì Qīngfēng), 52-year-old First Officer Yea Shyong Shieh (traditional Chinese: 謝亞雄; simplified Chinese: 谢亚雄; pinyin: Xiè Yàxióng), and 54-year-old Flight Engineer Sen Kuo Chao (traditional Chinese: 趙盛國; simplified Chinese: 赵盛国; pinyin: Zhào Shèngguó). The names of the pilot and first officer, respectively, are alternatively romanized as "Yi Ching-Fung" and "Hsieh Ya-Shiung".
About 25 minutes after takeoff, the aircraft disappeared from radar screens, suggesting it had experienced an in-flight breakup at FL350 (approximately 35,000 feet or 7 miles) near the Penghu Islands in the Taiwan Strait (co-ordinates 23.98°N, 119.67°E).
The crash occurred at a time between 15:37 and 15:40; Chang Chia-juch, the Taiwanese Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications, said that two Cathay Pacific aircraft in the area received B-18255's emergency location-indicator signals. All 19 crew members and all 206 passengers died.
The passengers included a former legislator and two reporters from the United Daily News. Except one passenger from Switzerland, all of the passengers on board were ethnic Chinese . 114 of the passengers were members of a group tour to Hong Kong or PRChina organized by five travel agencies.
Nationalities of the passengers
Recovery and identification of remains
The government of the Republic of China kept statistics of the passengers who were recovered.
The remains of 175 of the 206 passengers aboard were recovered and identified. The first 82 bodies, those of 76 passengers and 6 cabin crew, were found floating on the surface of the ocean, and were recovered by fishing vessels, the Coast Guard, and military vessels.
Most of the recovered passengers in the rear of the jet (Zones D through E) were found naked, since their clothes were torn off due to the forces of explosive decompression. Most of the recovered passengers in the front of the jet (Zones A through C) still had clothes on. Of the recovered passengers, 66 were fully clad, 25 were partially clad and 50 were completely naked. Two of the fully clad passengers were travelling with infants on their laps; the clothing situation of the infants was not stated.
Some passengers were found floating, while some remained strapped in their seats. Of the recovered passengers, 54 did not float and were not seated, 7 did not float and were still seated, 81 floated and did not decompose (1 held an infant; the infant's condition is not stated) while 25 floated and decomposed (1 held an infant; the infant's condition is not stated). 92% of the passengers initially found floating on the ocean surface had assigned seats located in and between Rows 42 and 57 (Zone E).
Some passengers had injuries predominantly on one side per body. Of these passengers, 10 sustained injuries predominantly on their left side (1 held an infant; the infant's condition is not stated) while 10 sustained injuries predominantly on their right side. Fifty-one sustained tibia and/or fibula bone fractures. Some passengers sustained back and/or hand abrasions. Of these, 27 sustained only hand abrasions, 10 sustained only back abrasions and 16 sustained back and hand abrasions.
Search, recovery and investigation
Searchers recovered 15% of the wreckage, including part of the cockpit, and found no signs of burns, explosives or gunshots.
There was no distress signal or communication sent out prior to the crash. Radar data suggests that the aircraft broke into four pieces while at FL350. This theory is supported by the fact that articles that would have been found inside the aircraft were found up to 80 miles (130 km) from the crash site in villages in central Taiwan. The items included magazines, documents, luggage, photographs, Taiwan dollars, and a China Airlines-embossed, blood-stained pillow case.
The flight data recorder from Flight 611 shows that the plane began gaining altitude at a significantly faster rate in the 27 seconds before the plane broke apart, although the extra gain in altitude was well within the plane's design limits. The plane was supposed to be leveling off then as it approached its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Shortly before the breakup, one of the aircraft's four engines began providing slightly less thrust. Coincidentally, the engine was the only one recovered from the sea floor. Pieces of the aircraft were found in the ocean and on Taiwan, including in the city of Changhua.
The Republic of China and the People's Republic of China co-operated in the recovery of the aircraft; the People's Republic of China allowed personnel from Taiwan to search for bodies and aircraft fragments in those parts of the Taiwan Strait controlled by the People's Republic of China.
China Airlines requested relatives to submit blood samples for DNA testing at the Criminal Investigation Bureau of National Police Administration (now National Police Agency) and two other locations.
The United Daily News stated that some relatives of passengers described the existence of this flight to Hong Kong as being "unnecessary". They said this because most of the passengers intended to arrive in Mainland China, but because of a lack of direct air links between Taiwan and Mainland China, the travellers had to fly via Hong Kong; the relatives advocated the opening of direct air links between Taiwan and Mainland China.
The final investigation report found that the accident was the result of metal fatigue caused by inadequate maintenance after a previous incident.
The report indicated that on February 7, 1980, the aircraft used on the flight had a tailstrike accident while landing in Hong Kong. Part of the plane's tail scraped along the runway for several hundred feet. The aircraft was de-pressurized, ferried back to Taiwan on the same day, and a temporary repair done the day after. A more permanent repair was conducted by a team from China Airlines from 23 May through 26 May 1980. However, the permanent repair of the tail strike was not carried out in accordance with the Boeing Structural Repair Manual (SRM). The area of damaged skin in Section 46 was not removed (trimmed) and the repair doubler plate that was supposed to cover in excess of 30% of the damaged area did not extend beyond the entire damaged area enough to restore the overall structural strength.
Consequently, after repeated cycles of depressurization and pressurization during flight, the weakened hull gradually started to crack and finally broke open in mid-flight on 25 May 2002, exactly 22 years to the day after the faulty repair was made upon the damaged tail. An explosive decompression of the aircraft occurred once the crack opened up, causing the complete disintegration of the aircraft in mid-air. However, this was not the first time that a plane had crashed because of a faulty repair following a tailstrike. On 12 August 1985, 17 years before the Flight 611 crash and five years after the accident aircraft's repair, Japan Airlines Flight 123 had crashed when the vertical stabilizer was torn off and the hydraulic systems severed by explosive decompression, killing 520 of the 524 people on board the aircraft. That crash had been attributed to a faulty repair to the rear pressure bulkhead, which had been damaged in 1978 in a tailstrike incident. In both crashes, the faulty repair had been an incorrectly installed doubler plate that was not installed according to Boeing standards.
China Airlines disputed much of the report, stating that investigators did not find the pieces of the aircraft that would prove the contents of the investigation report.
One piece of evidence of the metal fatigue is contained in pictures that were taken during a routine inspection of the plane years before the crash. The photos showed a visible brown nicotine stains around the doubler plate. This nicotine was deposited by smoke from the cigarettes of people who were smoking about seven years before the disaster (smoking was allowed in a pressurized plane up until 1995, seven years before the crash). The doubler plate had a brown nicotine stain all the way around it that could have been detected visually by any of the engineers when they inspected the plane. The stain would have suggested that there might be a crack caused by metal fatigue behind the doubler plate, as the nicotine slowly seeped out due to pressure that built up when the plane reached its cruising altitude. The stains were apparently not noticed and no correction was made to the doubler plate. Had an engineer taken notice of the stains, it is likely that the crash would never have happened.
It is a common practice to retire flight numbers following loss of aircraft and Flight 611 no longer exists. Shortly after the accident, China Airlines changed the flight number to 919, which now serves the Taipei-Hong Kong route along with existing flights 903, 641, 605 (which was also involved in an accident), 909, 913, 915, 617, 679, 923, 927 and 2927.
The aircraft B-18255 (originally registered as B-1866) involved, MSN 21843, was the only Boeing 747–200 passenger aircraft left in the China Airlines fleet at the time. It was delivered to the airline in 1979, and had logged 64,810 hours of flight time. The aircraft had a 274-seat configuration (22 first-class, 84 business-class, 131 main deck economy-class and 37 upper-deck economy seats). Prior to the crash China Airlines had sold B-18255 to Orient Thai Airlines for US$1.45 million. The accident flight was the aircraft's penultimate flight for China Airlines as it was scheduled to be delivered to Orient Thai Airlines after its return flight from Hong Kong to Taipei. The contract to sell the aircraft was voided after the crash.
The remaining four 747-200 freighters in China Airlines fleet were grounded immediately by the ROC's Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) after the crash. The airline returned the jets to service a few days later after maintenance checks.
The story of the disaster was featured in the episode "Scratching the Surface" in the seventh season of Canadian Discovery Channel Canada show Mayday (known as Mayday in Ireland, Air Crash Investigation in the UK & the rest of world, and Air Emergency in the US.)
- Japan Airlines Flight 123
- TWA Flight 800
- Aloha Airlines Flight 243
- 1964 Savage Mountain B-52 crash - Another accident that involved structural failure
- "Shattered in Seconds"("Scratching the Surface") Mayday
- "NEWS UPDATE OF CHINA AIRLINES CI611 FLIGHT (2)." China Airlines. 25 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
- "VERSION TIME : 2002/05/28 PM 02:00 CI 611 / 25MAY." China Airlines. 28 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
- Credits at end of Mayday episode "Shattered in Seconds" (aka "Scratching the Surface").
- Bhandari, Amit and Ravi Ananthanarayanan. "Catastrophic failure, but how?" Times of India. 26 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009. "All but one of the 225 persons on board the plane were Chinese. Most were from Taiwan, while others came from China, Hong Kong, Macau or Singapore. The only non-Chinese foreigner was Swiss, identified by "The Taipei Times" as a Mr Luigi Heer."
- Low, Stephanie and Chang Yu-jung. "CAL 747 crashes with 225 aboard." (Archive) Taipei Times. 26 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009. " All 19 crew members as well as 190 passengers on board were Taiwanese, including two United Daily News reporters and a former legislator. In addition to 14 Hong Kong, Macau and Chinese residents, foreign passengers also included one Singaporean, identified as Sim Yong-joo, and one Swiss, identified as Luigi Heer."
- "Search continues after 747 crashes in Taiwan Strait." (Archive) CBC. 25 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009. "The passengers list showed most of the people on board were Taiwanese, but also included a Singaporean, five people from Hong Kong, nine Chinese people and one Swiss citizen."
- "Crashed China Airlines Plane Over 22 Years Old." Xinhua at People's Daily. Sunday 26 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
- "No distress signal before Taiwan crash." (Archive) CNN. 26 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009. "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."
- "Hope Fades in Taiwan Crash Search." (Archive) BBC. 25 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009. "Also on board were two Singaporeans, 14 people from Hong Kong, Macau or China and one European."
- "," Aviation Safety Council
- "Decay Under Patches Might Have Caused China Airlines Crash," Air Safety Week, 30 June 2003
- "China missile ruled out in Taiwan crash," CNN – Version with full pictures: 
- "Military aviation expert says flaws in Taiwan plane crash theory: report." The Namibian. Monday 8 July 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
- "78 Bodies From Crashed Taiwanese Plane Retrieved". Xinhua News Agency. 26 May 2002. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
- "Relatives fly to Taiwan crash site". BBC News. 26 May 2002.
- Picken, Jane. "225 die in China Airlines crash." The Independent. 26 May 2002. Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
- Lam, Willy Wo-Lap (27 May 2002). "Crash brings Taiwan, China together". CNN. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
- "NEWS UPDATE OF B18255 INCIDENT (6)." China Airlines4 August 2002.
- China Airlines Flight CI-611 Crash Report Released (Report). International Aviation Safety Organisation. 25 February 2005. http://www.iasa.com.au/folders/Safety_Issues/FAA_Inaction/CI-611finalreport.html.
- "Boeing admits bad work on ill-fated Japanese Boeing 747". Star-News. 8 Sep 1985. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
- "China Airlines Statement on CI 611 Accident Investigation Report," China Airlines
- "China Airlines". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 4 August 2002. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
- ASC-AOR-05-02-001, the official Aviation Safety Council documents.
- ASC-AOR-05-02-001, official ASC documents in Chinese
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to China Airlines Flight 611.|
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Official investigation reports
- "Cracks blamed for 2002 China Airlines crash", CBC News, 25 February 2005
- Crashed China Airlines Plane Said to Break up in Sky, People's Daily
- "CAL 747 crashes with 225 aboard," Taipei Times
- "China Airlines back in the dock," BBC
- Between the Shores of Life and Death
- Set the Kite Free
- Taiwan says crashed China Air jet missed check-ups
- B-18255 Seat Plan
- China Airlines flight 611 disaster Tzu Chi mobilizes volunteers from all over Taiwan to help Tzu Chi
- Jiang Expresses Condolence Over Victims of China Airlines Crash (05/27/02)