Houston Community News >> Taiwan Airline Apologizes for Inferno Horror

8/21/2007 Tokyo (AFP)-- The head of China Airlines yesterday handed out apologies and cash to passengers who barely escaped a blaze that destroyed one of the Taiwanese carrier's planes on a runway in Japan.

Chief Executive Officer Chao Kuo-shuai shook hands with each of the Taiwanese tourists who fled the Boeing 737-800 just moments before it exploded in a raging fireball at Okinawa's main airport on Monday.

"I apologise from the bottom of my heart," Chao told the Taiwanese in the southern Japanese city, giving each one a red envelope containing 100 dollars. "I feel ashamed for causing so much trouble."

All 165 passengers and crew, most of them from Taiwan, survived the blaze, which erupted just moments after the Boeing 737-800 landed. Panicked travellers slid down emergency chutes and raced to safety before flames engulfed the jet.

It was the latest setback for China Airlines, which has suffered a series of fatal accidents, most recently in 2002.

A company spokeswoman in Tokyo said the firm was separately considering compensation to the tourists for damage to luggage and other belongings on the aircraft.

In Taiwan, one woman who survived the inferno said after returning home: "I dare not fly China Airlines any more."

Another China Airlines plane arrived yesterday in Naha, Okinawa's main city, where the airport was operating as normal as investigators sifted through the charred wreckage of the jet.

They were taking pictures of the engines, where the flames were believed to have broken out, television footage showed.

The probe involved some 40 investigators from Japan's transport ministry and Okinawa police. Investigators from Taiwan and the United States, where Boeing Co. is based, were also due to join the probe, officials said.

Taiwan's civil aviation authority said the plane had a technical problem two weeks before, but ruled that out as a cause for the fire.

The Boeing 737-800 first suffered a problem with a sensor on one of its wings during a flight on August 4 from Japan's Sapporo to Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said.

The problem recurred the next day as the plane landed in Kaohsiung following a flight from Thailand, it said.

But CAA spokesman Charles Lin categorically rejected suggestions that the blaze could be related to the technical problem, instead suggesting a failure of the plane's fuel system could be to blame.  

(Contributed by AFP)