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TransAsia Turboprop ATR-72 Crashes Into Taiwan River, Killing 31

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Taiwanese rescuers completed the difficult task late Wednesday of lifting the fuselage of a passenger plane that had earlier clipped an elevated highway and landed in a nearby river. The death toll from the wreck rose to at least 31 people of the 58 passengers and crew on board, according to Taipei fire officials. Another 15 were in the hospital, while rescuers continued their search for the remaining 12 still missing.

Dramatic dashcam footage taken from a car showed the TransAsia twin-engine ATR-72 at 11:53 a.m. local time (10:35 p.m. Tuesday ET), just after departing Taipei's Sungshan Airport en route to the outlying Kinmen islands. Flight 235 quickly lost altitude, banking almost 90 degrees and clipping a taxi and the road surface before crashing into the Keelung River.

Some of the survivors were ferried or swam to safety from the partially submerged aircraft. After dark, rescuers used a crane to hoist the plane's body onto the riverbank and search for others.

Image: TransAsia ATR 72-600 turboprop plane clips an elevated motorway and hits a taxi
The plane struck a bridge and a taxi before plunging into a river.TVBS TAIWAN / AFP - Getty Images

"The water is not clean, rescuers cannot see clearly underwater," a member of the fire rescue team told reporters at the scene. "The most important thing now is to drag the plane to the bank. They will dive into the water."

"I've never seen anything like this. This is unprecedented," a volunteer rescuer surnamed Chen said, according to Reuters.

Zhiming Ling, bureau chief of the aviation agency, said the plane was less than a year old and had completed a round of safety checks on Jan. 26.

The plane's black boxes — the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder — were recovered, the agency said.

An unverified recording posted online appeared to show the pilot telling air traffic controllers that he was declaring an emergency because of an engine failure. “Mayday, mayday, engine flameout,” the pilot purportedly tells controllers.

It was the second crash in little more than six months involving the same type of aircraft belonging to TransAsia. Another of the airline's ATR-72s crashed on a Taiwanese island, killing 48 people, in July.

The CEO of TransAsia, Xinde Chen, apologized for accident and thanked authorities for their help.

Chen said 31 of the passengers were Chinese nationals from mainland China, including three children. The remaining passengers were Taiwanese nationals, including one child, he said.

The aircraft manufacturer ATR said in a statement that the circumstances of the incident were still under investigation. The company said it expressed its "deepest sympathy to the families, friends and to those affected by the accident."

NBC News' Shamar Walters, NBC News' Alexander Smith and Reuters contributed to this report.

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