China steps up air safety checks amid crash probe

Major airlines held emergency meetings to review their safety measures.

Beijing: China stepped up nationwide air safety checks on Thursday as investigators searched for clues on why a Brazilian-made airliner crashed while trying to land in heavy fog, killing 42 people.

The Henan Airlines ERJ-190 regional jet crashed in poor visibility near Yichun city`s Lindu airport in northeast China late Tuesday with 54 passengers and crew surviving the fiery mishap, state media reports said.

Major airlines held emergency meetings on Wednesday to review their safety measures as President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered a thorough probe into the causes of the accident, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The top leaders also called for sweeping inspections throughout the country`s passenger air network to "eliminate any safety risks”.

Li Qiang, general manager of Henan Airlines, has been sacked over the accident following a meeting of the board of directors of the small provincial-based carrier, Xinhua said.

Fifteen seriously injured passengers remained in hospital, including several children.

Sun Baoshu, vice minister at China`s Ministry of Human Resources, was also in a serious condition following the accident, it said.

State media published photos showing the charred skeleton of the plane with the fuselage largely gutted by fire, while only the tail section and the nose cone remained slightly recognisable.

An initial investigation as well as survivors` accounts indicate the plane missed the runway and crashed on the ground, cracking the cabin and triggering an explosion and the subsequent fire, Xinhua said.

Investigators said no signs of sabotage have been detected.

The black box flight data recorders were both recovered near the crash site on Wednesday, previous reports said.

Brazilian manufacturer Embraer, maker of the plane, offered condolences to the victims` families and said it had sent a team of technicians to help with the investigation.

"This is the first time (an Embraer plane) has been involved in a fatal accident," an Embraer spokesman said.

The company, the third-biggest commercial aviation manufacturer in the world whose success has made it one of the symbols of Brazil`s economic boom, is concerned over the potential damage to its image brought on by the crash.

Chinese airlines fly 30 ERJ-190s, with Henan Airlines operating four of the planes, not including the crashed plane, Xinhua said.

The crashed jet was relatively new and went into operation in 2008, it added.

State media reported numerous concerns over the Lindu airport, which opened late last year and is located in a thickly forested valley surrounded by mountains.

In September last year, China Southern suspended all night flights in and out of Lindu airport because of safety concerns, the Beijing Youth Daily reported previously.

But Li Jian, the vice director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said the airport met all safety requirements.

"It is no comparison to big airports but the safety standards are guaranteed," Xinhua quoted Li as saying.

Xinhua further reported that Chinese carriers using ERJ-190s had previously reported technical problems, and that the CAAC called a workshop in June 2009 to discuss the issues.

Notes from the meeting -- which involved Kunpeng Airlines, as Henan Airlines was previously known -- showed that broken turbine plates and flight control system errors were among the problems, Xinhua said.

The plane`s pilot, identified as Qi Quanjun, survived the wreck but was unable to speak due to severe facial injuries, the China Daily reported.

The co-pilot and two cabin attendants were killed in the crash, it said.

The crash was China`s first major air disaster since a China Eastern Airlines jet crashed in Inner Mongolia in November 2004, killing 53 people on board and two on the ground.

Bureau Report

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