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September 24, 2017

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There are things we can learn and do following this tragedy

The crash of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 near Magong Airport in outlying Penghu County leaves many questions unanswered. Even the most fundamental question, the number of causalities, was answered 12 hours after the ATR 72 turboprop aircraft fell after aborting its initial landing. TransAsia Airways president Chooi Yee-choong (徐以聰) confirmed yesterday morning that 48 on board were killed and 10 were injured. Five local residents on the ground were also reported to be injured.

Questions about why this happened hang in the minds of many. An extensive investigation is needed to determine what exactly happened to the plane during those fatal minutes shortly after 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Was it pushed to the ground by wind shear? Was it struck by lightning? Did the pilot miss the runway in the flurry of rain and thunder? Or was there are mechanical failure involved?

Well before flight investigators can answer these questions, however, many local pundits are weighing in. Many point to Typhoon Matmo as a possible cause of the tragedy. Renowned weatherman Lee Fu-chen (李富城) yesterday took to social media to slam TransAsia Airways and the aviation weather forecaster for clearing flight GE222 to fly amid adverse weather conditions.

While some netizens supported Lee's views, some also pointed to the pressure that airlines face during delays. The rareness of aviation accidents in modern times has made Taiwanese passengers complacent. They often regard weather-related delays as mere annoyances instead of the important safety precautions that they are. It is common to see angry Taiwanese travelers yelling at ground crew, demanding that their flights take off as soon as possible, and maybe even earlier than the scheduled departure time. Flight GE222 took off 13 minutes after the government lifted the land warning for Typhoon Matmo, which was moving in the same direction that the plane was traveling.

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