Official: Singapore Airlines plane that crashed used wrong runway

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Singapore Airlines jumbo jet that crashed in Taipei during a heavy rainstorm tried to take off on the wrong runway and slammed into construction equipment being used to repair the strip, an official said Friday.

The comment by prosecutor Soong Kuo-yeh came as officials from Taiwan, Singapore and the United States combed through the wreckage of the Boeing 747-400 at the start of their investigation, and as dozens of American citizens arrived in Taipei to claim the bodies of the victims.

The jetliner crashed late Tuesday night as a typhoon bore down on the capital, with high winds, heavy rains and low visibility, killing 81 of the 179 people aboard Flight SQ006 from Taipei to Los Angeles.

''From the crash scene, it's very easy to see that the plane had mistakenly used the wrong runway where there were scraps of steel and two construction cranes,'' said Soong, a prosecutor at the Taoyuan County district office where the airport is located.

He said the plane crashed after hitting the two cranes being used to repair the closed runway during the day.

Soong's statement was the most specific account of what happened during the crash. The official probe has not announced any conclusions.

The official probe has already concluded that the bulk of the wreckage ended up on the closed runway that ran parallel to the one the plane was supposed to use. The pilot and some survivors also have said they felt the jet hit something just before the crash broke it liner into three pieces and set most of them on fire.

Another theory being discussed is that the plane began on the correct runway, then swerved to avoid something blowing in front of it and crashed onto the closed runway.

Angry relatives accused officials Thursday of concealing information about the deadly crash of a Singapore Airlines jetliner.

On Friday, as dozens of Americans arrived in Taipei aboard a Singapore Airlines flight from Los Angeles, many appearing tired and very sad, most declined to comment to reporters.

But one, Khan Mahmood of Atlanta, who lost his sister and his parents in the crash, criticized Singapore Airlines.

''Initially, we were disappointed. The first day it was a frustrating experience,'' Mahmood said. He didn't elaborate, but appeared to join others who have complained that Singapore Airlines took too long to notify relatives about what had happened to the plane and the crash victims.

''All I can say is I lost my parents as well as my sister,'' Mahmood said, before being led to a bus that took the Americans to a hotel, then to a memorial hall where the bodies must be identified.

Another upset woman urged reporters to leave the mourners alone, saying: ''I just want my brother back.''

Meanwhile, investigators continued to comb through the wreckage of the shattered jet, focusing on pieces ranging from a shredded tire to an engine planted deep in the ground.

Singapore Airlines, with no previous crashes in 28 years of operation, is regarded as one of the world's best airlines.

But Tuesday's accident was the latest in Asia to raise questions about whether pilots are given too much leeway in attempting takeoffs and landings in bad weather.

Some survivors have questioned why the Singapore Airlines jet even tried to take off during heavy wind and rains and poor visibility caused by the typhoon.

Winds were blowing between 27 to 31 mph, and the plane was traveling 145 mph - too fast to abort a takeoff, said Kay Yong, managing director of Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council.

No wreckage has been found on the runway where the jet was supposed to use. An earlier theory speculated that the plane had skidded onto the parallel runway, but no skid marks were found on the grass between them.

Singapore Airlines follows Boeing's guideline of allowing takeoffs only if crosswinds are lower than 34.5 mph (55.5 kph), airline spokesman Rick Clements said Thursday. Crosswinds were blowing at no more than 17 mph when the flight tried to take off Tuesday, he said.

But the Taiwanese carrier EVA Air said it scrapped three flights late Tuesday - shortly before the crash - because of crosswinds of more than 55 mph.

Even when winds are higher than the level aircraft manufacturers call safe, some airports leave the decision on whether to fly up to the pilot.

The decision to take off or land an aircraft is always up to the pilot, said Billy K.C. Chang, deputy director general of Taiwan's Aeronautics Administration.

Control tower operators can only provide the most precise weather data available. Chang acknowledged that the weather information generated by the government's computers is not distributed in real time. He refused to say how dated it was.

Airport officials order runways closed only if pilots insist on flying under weather conditions that present ''immediate danger to the aircraft,'' he said.

''It's always the pilot's call,'' Chang said.

But critics fear pilots might make the wrong call under pressure to keep flights operating on schedule.

Singapore Airlines has defended the actions of pilot Capt. C.K. Foong, who survived the crash.


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