- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

KIMHAE, South Korea Thirty-nine passengers survived when a Chinese jet plowed into a fog-shrouded mountain in South Korea yesterday, killing at least 118 persons.
The Air China Boeing 767-200, on a nonstop flight from Beijing, was approaching Kimhae Airport outside Pusan, South Korea's second-largest city, when it hit a 1,000-foot mountain near a residential area, police said. There were no casualties on the ground.
Survivors said Flight CA-129 crashed shortly after passengers were told to buckle their seat belts and prepare for landing.
"The plane suddenly dipped, then rose and then went down again. Seconds later, there was a big bang and I was knocked unconscious," said Jin Wenxue, a 35-year-old Korean-Chinese man from China's Jilin province.
The plane hit one side of the mountain and then plowed toward the peak, catching fire and cutting a trail of fallen trees 100 yards long.
"Bodies were burning in the mud. Survivors were crying in pain," said Bae Han-sol, 15, who rushed to the site after the plane skimmed over his village with a roar.
"We seldom see planes flying over our village, so I thought it was strange that the craft, trembling, flew toward the mountain in fog," Mr. Bae said.
Dozens of people were rescued alive, but several died in hospitals. Police said 118 persons were confirmed dead, nine were missing and 39 were alive. Most of the passengers were South Korean.
Aviation officials said many of the survivors were seated in the front part of the aircraft, indicating the jet's tail and fuselage hit the ground first. They also said the plane slowed as it skidded through the trees.
A South Korean travel agency executive said he received a call near the time of the crash from a passenger aboard the plane who said it appeared to be in trouble.
"The caller said, 'The plane seems to have problems, maybe an accident,'" Kim Yu-seok said. "After a brief silence, I heard people screaming over the phone.
"Then the call was disconnected," Mr. Kim said.
He said the call lasted 15 to 20 seconds and that he at first dismissed it as prank, but then realized the caller was Lee Kang-dae, an adviser to his company who was on the flight from Beijing.
He said Mr. Lee was among the survivors.
Kimhae Airport is used for both civilian and military planes, and air force personnel man the control tower. Air force Col. Kim Sung-hwi said the plane was given permission to land because weather conditions were good enough.
Police said light rain, low clouds and dense fog reduced visibility at the time of the crash.
After the crash, hundreds of police, military and civilian workers combed through smoking wreckage, using shovels and lights, but their work was hampered by rain. Bad roads also slowed rescue efforts.
Quoting survivors, police said there was no explosion on the plane before the crash, an indication that it was an accident and not an act of terrorism.
The plane was carrying 11 Chinese crew members, 135 Koreans, 19 Chinese and one Uzbek passenger, Air China's Seoul office said. The pilot, Wu Xing Lu, reportedly survived.
Air China is the country's national flag carrier and one of three major international carriers based in China. The airline had not recorded a fatal crash since it was established in 1988.

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