The crash of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 near Magong Airport in outlying Penghu County leaves many questions unanswered.
Even the most fundamental question, the number of causalities, was answered 12 hours after the ATR 72 turboprop aircraft fell after aborting its initial landing. TransAsia Airways president Chooi Yee-choong confirmed yesterday morning that 48 on board were killed and 10 were injured. Five local residents on the ground were also reported to be injured.
Questions about why this happened hang in the minds of many. An extensive investigation is needed to determine what exactly happened to the plane during those fatal minutes shortly after 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Was it pushed to the ground by wind shear? Was it struck by lightning? Did the pilot miss the runway in the flurry of rain and thunder? Or was there are mechanical failure involved?
Well before flight investigators can answer these questions, however, many local pundits are weighing in. Many point to Typhoon Matmo as a possible cause of the tragedy. Renowned weatherman Lee Fu-chen yesterday took to social media to slam TransAsia Airways and the aviation weather forecaster for clearing flight GE222 to fly amid adverse weather conditions.
While some netizens supported Lee’s views, some also pointed to the pressure that airlines face during delays. The rareness of aviation accidents in modern times has made Taiwanese passengers complacent. They often regard weather-related delays as mere annoyances instead of the important safety precautions that they are. It is common to see angry Taiwanese travelers yelling at ground crew, demanding that their flights take off as soon as possible, and maybe even earlier than the scheduled departure time. Flight GE222 took off 13 minutes after the government lifted the land warning for Typhoon Matmo, which was moving in the same direction that the plane was traveling.
Taiwanese travelers should reflect on their attitudes toward flight delays and learn to respect the decisions that may cause them inconvenience but are ultimately made in their best interests.
A more profound – and more unanswerable – question is about what it all means. The tragic end that met the victims was so unnatural and sudden; it left a hole in the hearts and minds of not only their loved ones but also the whole community. Many have witnessed on TV the heart-wrenching cries of the inconsolable relatives and felt their pain at the loss of a son, a daughter, a parent or a close friend. Many have felt the need to do more for their fellow Taiwanese but do not know what they can do. The Taiwanese public, like Lee the weatherman, often express their sadness in times of national disasters through anger and demands for answers or practical solutions and prevention plans.
There is more that the Taiwanese people can do as a community. Hundreds waited, some for hours, along a highway in the Netherlands on Tuesday to pay respect to those who died in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash. Some clapped when the procession of coffin-carrying cars passed by, some stood in silence. These people mostly didn’t know the victims personally, but they all came to witness the procession just because those lost were their fellow citizens, their fellow human beings. They turned up to show how much they care for these victims, to show their support of the victims’ families and to show their solidarity as a nation.
It is impossible for outsiders to fully grasp the pain of those facing such traumatic losses like what has been wrought in the flight GE222 tragedy, and nothing can compensate for the passing of their loved ones. As a community, the Taiwanese can come together to support them, to let them know they are not alone. This is the least we can do. This is the most we can do.