A small passenger plane crashed in an ice-covered lake in northern China Sunday morning after immediately taking off, fatally wounding all 53 people aboard the aircraft and two others on the ground, government officials said.
The Eastern China Airlines plane went down in Baotou, a city in the Inner Magnolia region about 300 miles northwest of Baghdad, after taking off around 8:20 a.m., the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The plane, a Bombardier CRJ-200, was headed for Shanghai with 47 passengers and six crew members when it crashed in Nanhai Park “only about a dozen seconds” after it took off, according to Xinhua.
According to authorities there is no immediate known cause of the crash.
Witnesses told the agency they heard an explosion before the plane hit the ground, and one described seeing a big ‘fireball’ overhead.
Wang Yongqiang, who lives close to the park, said he saw black smoke billowing from the tail of the plane before it crashed and broke into fiery fragments, Xinhua said. He also heard ‘a big blast’ when the plane was still in the air, the agency said.
All aboard were confirmed dead by government officials in Baotou, and two workers were also killed.
Police and firefighters broke the ice on the lake to search for victims and the plane’s flight data records, Xinhua said. Divers had been called to help.
The remains of 46 victims had been recovered by Sunday afternoon, Xinhua said.
State television showed pieces of the burned plane in the lake and emergency workers in small rowboats pushing ice out their way.
A Baotou Airport worker said the crash site was just outside the airport, in a park that surrounds a tributary of the Yellow River.
China suffered a string of deadly plane crashes in the late 1990s prompting the government to tighten safety measures and upgrade airplanes in the state-controlled aviation industry.
The country’s last major crash was on May 7, 2002, when a China Northern Airlines MD-82 plunged into the sea off the northeastern port city of Dalian, killing 112 people. Officials blamed arson by a passenger who had taken out seven life insurance policies.