The pilot of the fatal TransAsia crash is being hailed as a hero

Wreckage from the TransAsia Airways flight GE235.
Wreckage from the TransAsia Airways flight GE235.
Image: Reuters/Pichi Chuang
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This post has been updated

Liao Chien-tsung, the pilot who was flying a TransAsia flight when it crashed into a river near Taipei yesterday, is receiving praise for his efforts to steer the plane away from downtown Taipei and its many high rise buildings and apartments. The crash has left 31 people dead, including Liao and his co-pilot. Twelve people are still missing, and authorities are still investigating the plane’s black boxes to determine what happened.

TransAsia flight GE235 from Taipei to Kinmen Island off the shore of Taiwan reported an engine flameout shortly after taking off. It quickly began losing altitude as it passed dangerously close to buildings and clipped a taxi on an overpass before crashing upside down into the Keelung River, which flows through Taiwan’s capital city. Some have interpreted the plane’s flight path as evidence that Liao swerved to land the aircraft away from the city.

Image for article titled The pilot of the fatal TransAsia crash is being hailed as a hero

Aviation experts said that Liao took three major turns in 108 seconds, narrowly avoiding buildings near the airport before crashing into the river. “He really tried everything he could,” Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je told reporters on Thursday. ”If the aircraft is coming down the pilots aim for open spaces where they and the passengers might survive,” David Learmount, from Flightglobal magazine, told the Telegraph.

A photo of Liao circulating on Chinese social media.
A photo of Liao circulating on Chinese social media.
Image: Weibo

Residents in Taipei took to Facebook and other forums to thank Liao. One wrote: ”The footage shows the plane at the end making a sudden turn, as he was trying avoiding the city’s buildings and high apartments. Many thanks to the pilots for saving Nankang district,” an area in southeastern Taipei. Another wrote: ”Peaceful journey. You made the best judgement and saved many. Hero.” “The results would have been more unimaginable if the plane had fallen in the city or crashed into a commercial building nearby,” a blogger on an online forum in Taiwan, Professional Technology Temple, wrote.

In mainland China, netizens were also impressed with Liao’s efforts. Almost half of the plane’s 58 passengers were from mainland China. On the Weibo microblog, bloggers posted icons of candles and hands clasped, as if in prayer. One wrote, “I wish him a peaceful return home.”

According to Taiwanese media, Liao, the father of a nine-year-old boy, hailed from a poor family in in central Taiwan, where he helped his parents sell clothing at a night market. After graduating from a vocational school, Liao studied for years to earn his pilot’s license and entered the air force. He eventually became a commercial pilot at Taiwan’s largest carrier, China Airlines, before joining TransAsia. According to aviation officials, he had 4,916 hours of flying experience.