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China Plane Crash: Henan Airlines Passenger Plane With More Than 90 On Board Goes Down

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BEIJING — A Chinese passenger jet crashed while trying to land on a fog-shrouded runway in the country's northeast and burst into flames, killing 42 people and injuring 54 others, state media said Wednesday.

The Henan Airlines plane with 91 passengers and five crew crashed late Tuesday in a grassy area near the Lindu airport on the outskirts of Yichun, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Five of those onboard were children, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said, but their fates were not immediately known.

The crash and subsequent fire were so severe that little of the fuselage remained, though the charred tail was still largely intact. China Central Television said eight of the victims were found 65 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) from the plane's wreckage in a muddy field.

Xinhua said officials had earlier reported 43 dead because one body was torn apart in the crash and had been counted as two. It said the pilot, Qi Quanjun, survived the crash but was badly hurt and cannot speak.

One of the dead was a Chinese with a foreign passport, according to Xinhua, but it did not give the nationality. It also said a passenger from Taiwan was hurt.

The plane's black box was recovered Wednesday, Xinhua reported.

The Brazilian-made Embraer E-190 jet had taken off from Heilongjiang's capital of Harbin shortly before 9 p.m. (1300 GMT) and crashed a little more than an hour later while arriving at Yichun, a city of about 1 million people 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Russian border. The Yichun airport has been in operation for one year.

A middle-aged man who survived the crash told China Central Television there was bad turbulence as the plane descended, then several big jolts that caused the luggage to come crashing down from the overhead bins.

"After we stopped, the people in the back were panicking and rushed to the front," the unidentified man, who had no visible injuries, said in an interview from a hospital bed. "We were trying to open the (emergency exits) but they wouldn't open. Then the smoke came in ... within two or three minutes or even a minute, we couldn't breathe. I knew something bad was going to happen."

The man said he and a few others escaped from a hole in the wall of the cabin near the first row of seats, then ran from the burning wreckage.

Eighteen officials from China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and various provincial branches were on the flight, headed to a meeting in Yichun, Xinhua said. It said Vice Minister Sun Baoshu was in critical condition after suffering broken bones and head injuries.

Wang Xuemei, vice mayor of Yichun, told CCTV that of the 54 injured three were in critical condition but he gave no details. The Yichun city Communist Party published an online list of victims with 42 names. They ranged in age from 12 to 55.

State television footage Wednesday showed the tail of the plane along with the burned-out, barely recognizable remains of the fuselage.

A statement in Chinese on Embraer's website said the company had sent officials to the crash scene to cooperate with the investigation.

"Embraer extends its profound condolences and wishes for recovery to the families and friends of those lost or injured in the accident," it said.

Henan Airlines is based in the central Chinese province of the same name and flies smaller regional jets, mainly on routes in north and northeast China. Previously known as Kunpeng Airlines, the carrier was relaunched as Henan Airlines earlier this year. It launched the Yichun-Harbin service this year.

Henan Airlines and many other regional Chinese airlines flying shorter routes have struggled in the past few years, losing passengers to high-speed railroad lines that China has aggressively expanded.

An American company, Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group Inc., was an original investor in Henan's predecessor company, Kunpeng, but divested its stake last year. Mesa operates regional services in the U.S. for Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and other carriers and is undergoing bankruptcy reorganization.

Full-tilt expansion of Chinese air traffic in the 1990s led to a series of crashes that gave China the reputation of being unsafe. The poor record prompted the government to improve safety drastically, from airlines to new air traffic management systems at airports.

The last major passenger jet crash in China was in November 2004, when an China Eastern airplane plunged into a lake in northern China, killing all 53 on board and two on the ground.

An MD-11 cargo plane operated by Zimbabwe-based Avient Aviation crashed during takeoff from Shanghai's main airport last November. Three American crew members died while four others on board were injured.

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Associated Press researchers Yu Bing and Zhao Liang contributed to this story.

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