China Airlines Flight 611
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China Airlines 747-200 similar to the one involved in the accident, in a previous livery
|Date||25 May 2002|
|Summary||In-flight break-up caused by metal fatigue from an earlier improperly repaired tailstrike|
|Site||23 nautical miles (26 mi; 43 km) northeast of Makung, Penghu Islands, Taiwan Strait |
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747-209B|
|IATA flight No.||CI611|
|ICAO flight No.||CAL611|
|Call sign||DYNASTY 611|
|Flight origin||Taiwan Taoyuan Int'l Airport|
|Destination||Hong Kong Int'l Airport|
China Airlines Flight 611 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport (now Taoyuan International Airport) in Taiwan 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 23 nautical miles (26 mi; 43 km) northeast of the Penghu Islands 20 minutes after takeoff, killing all 225 people on board. The in-flight break-up was caused by improper repairs to the aircraft 22 years earlier. As of 2019, the crash remains the deadliest in Taiwanese history.
Flight and disaster
The flight took off at 15:08 local time (07:08 UTC) and was scheduled to arrive at Hong Kong at 16:28 HKT (08:28 UTC). The flight crew consisted of 51-year-old Captain Ching-Fong Yi, 52-year-old First Officer Yea Shyong Shieh, and 54-year-old Flight Engineer Sen Kuo Chao. All three pilots were highly experienced airmen – the captain and first officer each had more than 10,100 hours of flying time and the flight engineer had clocked more than 19,100 flight hours.
At 15:16, the flight was cleared to climb to flight level 350—approximately 35,000 feet (11,000 m). At 15:33, the aircraft broke up in mid-air and contact was lost. 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 206 passengers and 19 crew members on board the aircraft died.
The passengers included a former legislator and two reporters from the United Daily News. The majority of the passengers, 114 people, were members of a Taiwanese group tour to the mainland organized by four travel agencies.
Of the 225 passengers and crew on board, remains of 175 were recovered and identified. The first 82 bodies were found floating on the ocean surface of the Taiwan Strait and were recovered by fishing boats and military vessels. Contracted recovery vessels were subsequently utilized for the recovery of the aircraft wreckage and the remaining bodies.:69
The victims were identified by visual identification, personal effects, fingerprints, dental examinations and through DNA testing. Only the three recovered flight crewmember bodies were autopsied. The victims' bodies were photographed and their clothing and possessions were cataloged and returned to the victim's families. The victims' records, including body diagrams, injury protocols, photographs, and other documents related to the recovery and identification of the individuals were then correlated for each identified victim.:69
Most of the victims had extensive injuries consistent with head trauma, tibia and fibula fractures, significant back abrasions and pelvic injuries. Most of the bodies were nearly intact except, in some cases, for fractured bones. Some of the victims had expansion of lung tissue, subcutaneous emphysema, and bleeding on the nose and mouth.:70 There were no carbon remains found on any of the recovered bodies or their clothes, and no sign of fire, burning or blast damage was found.:70, 72
Search, recovery and investigation
At 17:05, a military Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft spotted a crashed airliner 23 nautical miles (26 mi; 43 km) northeast of Makung, Penghu Islands. Oil slicks were also spotted at 17:05; the first body was found at 18:10. Searchers recovered 15 percent 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 (70 nmi; 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 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 governments of Taiwan and the People's Republic of China co-operated in the recovery of the aircraft; the Chinese 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.
Metal fatigue cracking
The final investigation report found that the accident was the result of fatigue cracking caused by inadequate maintenance after a much earlier tailstrike incident. On 7 February 1980, the aircraft was flying from Stockholm Arlanda Airport to Taoyuan International Airport via King Abdulaziz International Airport and Kai Tak International Airport as China Airlines Flight 009. While landing in Hong Kong, part of the plane's tail had scraped along the runway.:10 The aircraft was depressurized, ferried back to Taiwan on the same day, and a temporary repair done the day after.:11 A more permanent repair was conducted by a team from China Airlines from 23 May through 26 May 1980.:12 The permanent repair of the tailstrike was not carried out in accordance with the Boeing Structural Repair Manual (SRM).:157–158 According to the manual, repairs could be made by replacing the entire affected skin or by cutting out the damaged portion and installing a reinforcing doubler plate to restore the structural strength.:60–61 These two acceptable options were set aside in favor of a third option, which entailed installing a doubler directly over the scratched skin.:160
Even though the kind of damage inflicted on the tail was far beyond the damage that a doubler plate is meant to fix, this accident probably would not have occurred if the doubler had been installed properly. This would mean that all of the scratches would be completely contained by the innermost row of fasteners, and the fasteners themselves would be strong enough to stop the propagation of any new and existing fatigue cracks. However, the doubler that was installed on the aircraft was too small and therefore failed to completely and effectively cover the damaged area, as scratches were found at, and outside, the outermost row of fasteners securing the doubler.:74–80 Installing the doubler with scratches remaining outside the rivets provided no protection against the propagation of any concealed cracks beneath the doubler, or worse, in the area between its perimeter and the rows of rivets.:159
Consequently, after repeated cycles of pressurization and depressurization during flight, cracks began to form around the exposed scratches. Finally, on 25 May 2002, coincidentally 22 years to the day after the faulty repair was made upon the damaged tail, the hull broke open in mid-air. An explosive decompression occurred once the crack opened up, causing the complete disintegration of the aircraft. 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 Flight 611's crash and 7 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, with only four survivors. 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, a doubler plate 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.
The aircraft involved, registration B-18255 (originally registered as B-1866), 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 more than 64,800 hours of flight time at the time of the accident. 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.
There were only three passenger 747-200s delivered to China Airlines, all from 1979-1980. The other two had been in full passenger service until 1999, when they were converted to freighters. They were immediately grounded by the ROC's Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) after the crash for maintenance checks.
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After the crash, in order to express respect for the victims, China Airlines retired the flight number 611. The flight number was changed to 619. The route Taipei to Hong Kong is served on many other flights, including 903, 641, 605 (which was also involved in an accident), 909, 913, 915, 617, 679, 923, 927 and 951.
In addition, a Boeing 737-800 aircraft registered as B-18611 was changed to B-18617 in 2006 for the same reason.
- "News update of China Airlines CI611 Flight." China Airlines. 25 May 2002. Archived 2002-08-06 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
- "Version time: 2002/05/28 PM 02:00 CI 611 / 25 May." China Airlines. 28 May 2002. Archived 2002-08-06 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
-  Archived 21 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine
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- "China missile ruled out in Taiwan crash," CNN – Version with full pictures: 
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- ASC-AOR-05-02-001, the official ASC documents.
- ASC-AOR-05-02-001, official ASC documents in Chinese
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to China Airlines Flight 611.|
- "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
- "China Airlines 747 Near Taipei". Lessons Learned. Federal Aviation Administration.
- Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript and accident summary
- 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)
- (in Chinese) Yang, Minghao (楊明浩), Li Baokang (李寶康), Su Shuikao (蘇水灶), and Guan Wenlin (官文霖). "華航CI-611事故調查地理資訊系統整合" (Archive). Aviation Safety Council. - Includes English abstract