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[TAIPEI] At least nine people were killed and dozens were unaccounted for after a Taiwanese TransAsia Airways plane with 58 passengers and crew on board crashed into a Taipei river shortly after take-off on Wednesday, officials and domestic media said.
Dramatic pictures taken by a motorist and posted on Twitter showed the plane cartwheeling over a motorway close to Taipei's downtown airport soon after the turboprop ATR 72-600 aircraft took off for the island of Kinmen.
Television footage showed passengers wearing life jackets wading and swimming clear of the river. The crash was the airline's second disaster in the last six months.
Emergency rescue officials in inflatable boats crowded around the partially submerged fuselage of Flight GE235, lying on its side in the river, trying to help those on board.
The civilian aeronautic authority said soon after the crash that two people had been killed. Taiwanese television later reported the death toll had risen to nine.
The aeronautics authority reported 16 people had been rescued, meaning as many as 33 people were still missing.
Other Taiwanese government authorities said the plane was carrying 58 passengers and crew, including 31 tourists from mainland China.
The weather appeared to be clear when the plane took off.
Footage shown on Taiwanese television as well as on YouTube showed the plane's port-side wing clipping an overpass after it missed what appeared to be apartment buildings by metres.
A van skidded to a halt, just missing the stricken plane's wing. Pictures showed damage to the overpass next to the river, with small pieces of the aircraft scattered along the road.
Taipei's downtown Songshan airport, the smaller of the city's two airports, provides mostly domestic flights but also connections to Japan, China and South Korea.
The crash is the latest in a string of mishaps to hit Asian carriers in the past 12 months. An AirAsia jet bound for Singapore crashed soon after taking off from the Indonesian city of Surabaya on Dec 28, killing all 162 people on board.
Also last year, a Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared and one of its sister planes was downed over Ukraine with a combined loss of 539 lives.
TransAsia is Taiwan's third-largest carrier. One of its ATR 72-500 planes crashed while trying to land at Penghu Island last July, killing 48 of the 58 passengers and crew on board.
Taiwan has had a poor aviation safety record in recent years, including the disintegration of a China Airlines 747 on a flight from Taipei to Hong Kong in 2002, killing 225. In 1998, a China Airlines A300 crashed while trying to land at Taipei's main international airport, killing 196.
In 2000, a Singapore Airlines jetliner taking off for Los Angeles during a storm hit construction equipment on the runway, killing at least 77 people.
The plane involved in Wednesday's mishap was among the first of the ATR 72-600s, the latest variant of the turboprop aircraft, that TransAsia received in 2014.
They are among an order of eight placed by TransAsia in 2012. The aircraft have 72 seats each. The planes are mainly used to connect the capital, Taipei, with smaller cities and islands.
The airline also operates Airbus A320 and A330 planes on domestic and regional services.
ATR is a joint venture between Airbus and Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italy's Finmeccanica.