At least 11 people were killed and up to 19 were missing after a Taiwanese TransAsia Airways plane with 58 passengers and crew on board crashed into a river shortly after taking off from a downtown Taipei airport on Wednesday, officials said.
As many as 28 people however appeared to have escaped miraculously from the crash after the plane lurched sickeningly between buildings, clipped an overpass with its port-side wing and crashed upside down in the shallow river.
Dramatic pictures taken by a motorist and posted on Twitter showed the plane cartwheeling over the motorway soon after the turboprop ATR 72-600 aircraft took off in apparently clear weather on a domestic flight for the island of Kinmen.
Television footage showed survivors wearing life jackets wading and swimming clear of wreckage. Others, including a young child, were taken to shore by rescuers.
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.
Taiwan's fire department classified 10 of the passengers as showing "no sign of life" and one killed. Twenty-eight people had been rescued, it said in a text message, leaving 19 still unaccounted for.
Other Taiwanese government authorities said the plane was carrying 58 passengers and crew, including 31 tourists from mainland China.
The plane appeared to miss apartment buildings by metres. Footage showed a van skidding to a halt on the damaged overpass after barely missing the plane's wing, with small pieces of the aircraft scattered along the road.
The chief executive of TransAsia, Chen Xinde, bowed deeply at a televised news conference as he apologised to passengers and crew.
The last communication from one of the aircraft's pilots was "Mayday Mayday engine flameout", according to an air traffic control recording on liveatc.net.
A flameout occurs when the fuel supply to the engine is interrupted or when there is faulty combustion, resulting in an engine failure. Twin-engined aircraft, however, are usually able to keep flying even when one engine has failed.
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.
A statement from China's Taiwan Affairs Office said 31 one of those on board were tourists from the southeastern city of Xiamen, which lies close to Taiwan's Kinmen island.
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 537 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 as part of an order of eight aircraft two years earlier.
The 72-seat aircraft are mainly used to connect the capital, Taipei, with smaller cities and islands.
ATR is a joint venture between Airbus and Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italy's Finmeccanica.