TIME

Iraq: Kurdish Politician Massoum Named President

(BAGHDAD) — Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum has been named the new president of Iraq following a parliamentary vote.

Massoum, 76, is one of the founders of current President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party. He is considered a soft-spoken moderate, known for keeping good relations with Sunni and Shiite Arab politicians.

The vote for president — a largely ceremonial post — was delayed for a day when the Kurdish bloc requested more time to select a candidate. They named Massoum as their pick late Wednesday.

Under an unofficial agreement dating back to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq’s presidency is held by a Kurd while the prime minister is Shiite and the parliamentary speaker is Sunni.

TIME

Family: Teen Pilot Who Crashed in Ocean Knew Risks

(PLAINFIELD, Ind.) — Haris Suleman knew that flying around the world carried risks. But like adventurers before him, the 17-year-old pilot from Indiana also believed dreams aren’t achieved without taking chances.

“Why does any explorer undertake the necessary risks in order to accomplish their dream? Because that person has a drive, they have a focus, and they have a need to explore that dream,” he wrote in a July 15 blog for The Huffington Post.

That dream turned to tragedy Tuesday when his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean en route from American Samoa to Honolulu. Crews recovered Haris’ body but were still searching for 58-year-old Babar Suleman on Wednesday.

As plans for welcome-home celebrations shifted to mourning, family and friends defended the father-son team and their mission, saying they had known the dangers when they set out to break a record while raising money to help build schools in Babar Suleman’s native Pakistan.

“It was an absolutely noble cause that they took this journey on, and they knew the dangers,” said family friend Azher Khan, who spoke during a news conference Wednesday in Plainfield, Indiana, where the Sulemans lived.

Babar Suleman had long dreamed of flying around the world. He and his son decided to make the adventure a fundraiser for the Citizens Foundation, which has built 1,000 schools in Pakistan.

They also hoped to set the record for the fastest circumnavigation around the world in a single-engine airplane with the youngest pilot in command to do so.

The duo planned the trip carefully. They took classes in how to survive an ocean landing and packed a life raft with food and other supplies in case they had to bail out over water. They calculated their fuel needs and plotted their course, arranging stops in Europe, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, before setting out June 19.

“With a trip like this, there’s always a risk, and they did prepare for that risk,” Hiba Suleman said of her brother and father. “You can plan all you want, but sometimes things just don’t happen the way you planned.”

But others questioned the wisdom of putting a 17-year-old at the controls for such a grueling journey.

“I would put it along the lines of a 17-year-old behind the wheel,” said Carol E. Giles, a private aviation consultant and former Federal Aviation Administration official who noted that younger pilots have less experience coping with emergencies.

An inspector for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in American Samoa will be looking into the cause of the accident. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams said the agency will work with local authorities on the investigation, but he couldn’t confirm if the NTSB would send an investigator too.

Babar Suleman had flown for more than a decade and had experience with emergency landings. In 2008, he landed his plane on an Indianapolis highway after its single engine died.

His son had flown with him since the age of 8 and received his pilot’s license and instrument rating in June.

He emphasized preparations with his son, both before and during the journey.

“Hope is never a good plan,” the elder Suleman told NBC News before setting off. “We have to plan for all kinds of eventualities.”

Babar Suleman expressed frustration with his son in a July 9 blog post chronicling their journey over Haris’ failure to know the exact location of an airport.

“I have been harping on Haris that an instrument pilot always flies with precision, always maintains the center line while taxiing, landing and takeoff, never busts the assigned altitudes … and is always way ahead of the plane. Not knowing the exact location of the Walton airport was rather unsettling,” he wrote.

TIME

Air Algerie Plane Disappears From Radar

Plane was traveling from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to Algiers

Update: July 24, 6:52 a.m. ET

(ALGIERS, Algeria) — Authorities say a flight operated by Air Algerie carrying 110 passengers and a crew of six has disappeared from the radar on a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers.

The official Algerian news agency said air navigation services lost track of the Swiftair plane 50 minutes after takeoff — at 0155 GMT. Flight AH5017 had been missing for hours before news was made public.

Swiftair, the private Spanish airline, confirmed that 116 people were aboard.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

An Air Algerie flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers has disappeared from radar on a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers, the official Algerian news agency said Thursday.

Air navigation services lost track of the plane 50 minutes after takeoff early Thursday, last sited at 0155 GMT, the agency said.

“In keeping with procedures, Air Algerie has launched its emergency plan,” the agency quoted the airline as saying.

The flight path of Flight AH5017 from Ouagadougou, the capital of the west African nation of Burkina Faso, to Algiers was not immediately clear.

Ougadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.

TIME #MH17

40 Bodies From MH17 Solemnly Returned to Dutch Soil

Netherlands Ukraine Plane
Soldiers carry a coffin during a ceremony to mark the return of the first bodies of passengers and crew killed in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, on July 23, 2014 Martin Meissner—AP

Though still unidentified, the corpses that arrived on two military transport planes in Eindhoven were welcomed by a nation unmoored by the loss of so many caught in a faraway war

(EINDHOVEN, Netherlands) — Victims of the Malaysian jetliner shot down over Ukraine returned at last Wednesday to Dutch soil in 40 wooden coffins, solemnly and gently carried to 40 identical hearses, flags at half-staff flapping in the wind.

The carefully choreographed, nearly silent ceremony contrasted sharply with the boom of shells and shattered glass in eastern Ukraine as pro-Russian rebels fought to hang onto territory and shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets. The bold new attack showed the separatists are not shying away from shooting at the skies despite international outrage and grief at the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Even though they are still unidentified, the corpses that arrived on two military transport planes in Eindhoven were embraced by a nation unmoored by the loss of so many people caught in someone else’s faraway war.

Boys going to visit their grandparents, a flight attendant hurrying to get home, a bouncer heading to see his sweetheart were among the 298 victims of the jetliner that was blown out of the sky on July 17, intensifying anger at the separatists suspected of bringing it down with a surface-to-air missile.

Nearly a week later, international investigators still don’t have unfettered access to the crash site, some remains have yet to be recovered, and armed men roam the region, defying their government.

Investigators in a lab in southern England began studying the plane’s “black boxes” Wednesday in hopes of learning about the Boeing 777′s final minutes. The Dutch Safety Board, which has taken control of the investigation, said the cockpit voice recorder suffered damage but showed no sign of manipulation, and its recordings were intact. Specialists will start studying the flight data recorder Thursday.

Families of passengers moved to a new stage of grief as the bodies began arriving in the Netherlands, the country that bore the heaviest death toll.

The families had spent days agonizing in wait while their loved ones’ remains lay in sweltering fields in eastern Ukraine before being gradually shifted by truck, train and plane.

“If I have to wait five months for identification, I can do it,” said Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers died in the crash. “Waiting while the bodies were in the field and in the train was a nightmare.”

On a day of national mourning, flags flew at half-staff on Dutch government buildings and family homes around this nation of 17 million.

Church bells rang out around the country as the Dutch and Australian military transport planes taxied to a standstill. King Willem-Alexander clasped the hand of his wife, Queen Maxima, as the couple grimly watched uniformed pallbearers carry the coffins slowly from the planes to a fleet of waiting hearses.

Almost the only sound was of boots marching across the ground and flags flapping in the wind.

Then as the last hearses drove away, applause briefly broke out. Along the route, there was more applause from people gathered along the roadsides. Some tossed flower petals at the motorcade.

From the airport, they drove under military police escort to the central city of Hilversum where forensic experts waited at a military barracks to carry out the painstaking task of identifying the remains. Prime Minister Mark Rutte says many bodies could be identified quickly, but some families may have to wait weeks.

Two more planeloads of victims will be flown Thursday to Eindhoven to a similar ceremony, the Dutchgovernment said.

The rebels, undeterred, fought to hold onto territory and said they attacked two Ukrainian air force jets in the same area where the passenger plane fell.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said the Su-25s were shot about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of the wreckage from the Malaysian jet. The separatist group Donetsk People’s Republic said on its website that one of the pilots was killed and another was being sought by rebel fighters.

The attack revived questions about the rebels’ weapons capabilities — and how much support and training they are getting from Russia. The U.S. accuses Russia of backing the separatists and fueling Ukraine’s conflict, which has brought Russia’s relations with the West and key trading partners in Europe to a two-decade low.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the downing of the fighter jets “speaks to the pattern we’ve seen over the last several weeks, which is Russian-backed separatists armed with Russian anti-aircraft posing risk to aircraft in Ukraine.”

Rhodes added: “The only aircraft they’re not taking responsibility for is MH-17,” referring to the Malaysian jetliner.

He said the U.S. believes it has a “pretty clear case” that responsibility for downing the Malaysian plane lies with the Russian-backed separatists. He acknowledged that the U.S. does not know who “pulled the trigger” and said that would be the hardest thing to determine.

While the insurgents deny having missiles capable of hitting a jetliner at cruising altitude, rebel leader Alexander Borodai has said his fighters do have Strela-10M missile systems, which are capable of hitting targets up to an altitude of 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). They have shoulder-fired missiles with a smaller range.

The rebels also say they shot down an Antonov-26 early last week with a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The Kiev government is hinting that the Antonov was flying too high for the rebels to hit it, suggesting Russian involvement.

Rebel leader Pavel Gubarev wrote on his Facebook page that 30 rebels were injured and his men retreated from the villages of Chervona Zorya and Kozhevnya, on the Russian border about 45 kilometers (30 miles) from the sunflower fields where the Malaysia Airlines plane fell.

The battles are complicating the investigation into the passenger jet crash.

Ukraine and Western nations are pressing the rebels who control the crash site to allow an unfettered investigation, something Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would use his influence to achieve. Though confident that a missile brought down the passenger jet, U.S. officials say Russia’s role remains unclear. Russia denies involvement.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf laid direct responsibility on Putin.

“These Russian separatists, who we strongly believe fired this missile, would not be there operating without the support of President Putin and the Russian government, would not have been trained without the support of President Putin and the Russian government, would not be armed without the support of President Putin and the Russian government,” she said. “They would not be there doing what they’re doing, period, so they could fire an SA-11, without the support of President Putin and the Russian government.”

The Dutch Safety Board, which is leading an international team of 24 investigators, said unhindered access to the crash site was critical.

Spokesman Tjibbe Joustra told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that about 25 investigators are in Kiev analyzing photos, satellite images and radar information, but have not yet gained access to the crash site.

Body parts were still seen at the crash site Wednesday, said Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. He also described “significant puncture marks to the fuselage, almost a piercing mark.”

Independent military analysts said the size, spread, shape and number of shrapnel impacts visible in an AP photograph of a piece of the wreckage all point to a missile system like the SA-11 Buk.

U.S. analysts have also concluded that an SA-11 was the likely weapon.

Konrad Muzyka, an analyst at IHS Jane’s, said the high number of shrapnel holes in the debris meant that only a fragmentary warhead like the SA-11 could have been used. The fact the shrapnel holes are folded inwards confirmed that the explosion came from outside the plane, he added.

Justin Bronk, military sciences research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, said “the size of shrapnel holes is fairly broad, in keeping with what you would expect from a large missile like the SA-11.”

Residents in the rebel-held city of Donetsk swept up broken glass and tried to repair apartments damaged from shelling in recent days.

“The solution I see is to stop shooting. Then Europe and Russia should step in to help start talks,” said resident Alexander Litvinenko. “Nothing will be resolved by force.”

___

Chernov contributed from Snizhne, Ukraine. Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, Matthew Lee and Julie Pace in Washington and Jona Kallgren in Kharkiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

TIME Social Security

Social Security Spent $300 Million on ‘IT Boondoggle’

Social Security Computer Woes
This Jan. 11, 2013 file photo shows the Social Security Administration's main campus in Woodlawn, Md. Patrick Semansky—AP

"The program has invested $288 million over six years, delivered limited functionality, and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns," a report said

(WASHINGTON) — Six years ago the Social Security Administration embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims. Nearly $300 million later, the new system is nowhere near ready and agency officials are struggling to salvage a project racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an internal report commissioned by the agency.

In 2008, Social Security said the project was about two to three years from completion. Five years later, it was still two to three years from being done, according to the report by McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm.

Today, with the project still in the testing phase, the agency can’t say when it will be completed or how much it will cost.

In the meantime, people filing for disability claims face long delays at nearly every step of the process — delays that were supposed to be reduced by the new processing system.

“The program has invested $288 million over six years, delivered limited functionality, and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns,” the report said.

As a result, agency leaders have decided to “reset” the program in an effort to save it, the report said. As part of that effort, Social Security brought in the outside consultants from McKinsey to figure out what went wrong.

They found a massive technology initiative with no one in charge — no single person responsible for completing the project. They issued their report in June, though it was not publicly released.

As part of McKinsey’s recommendations, acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin appointed Terrie Gruber to oversee the project last month. Gruber had been an assistant deputy commissioner.

“We asked for this, this independent look, and we weren’t afraid to hear what the results are,” Gruber said in an interview Wednesday. “We are absolutely committed to deliver this initiative and by implementing the recommendations we obtained independently, we think we have a very good prospect on doing just that.”

The revelations come at an awkward time for Colvin. President Barack Obama nominated Colvin to a full six-year term in June, and she now faces confirmation by the Senate. Colvin was deputy commissioner for 3½ years before becoming acting commissioner in February 2013.

The House Oversight Committee is also looking into the program, and whether Social Security officials tried to bury the McKinsey report. In a letter to Colvin on Wednesday, committee leaders requested all documents and communications about the computer project since March 1.

The letter was signed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight committee, and Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and James Lankford, R-Okla. They called the project “an IT boondoggle.”

The troubled computer project is known at the Disability Case Processing System, or DCPS. It was supposed to replace 54 separate, antiquated computer systems used by state Social Security offices to process disability claims. As envisioned, workers across the country would be able to use the system to process claims and track them as benefits are awarded or denied, and claims are appealed.

But as of April, the system couldn’t even process all new claims, let alone accurately track them as they wound their way through the system, the report said. In all, more than 380 problems were still outstanding, and users hadn’t even started testing the ability of the system to handle applications from children.

“The DCPS project is adrift, the scope of the project is ambiguous, the project has been poorly executed, and the project’s development lacks leadership,” the three lawmakers said in their letter to Colvin.

Maryland-based Lockheed Martin was selected in 2011 as the prime contractor on the project. At the time, the company valued the contract at up to $200 million, according to a press release.

McKinsey’s report does not specifically fault Lockheed but raises the possibility of changing vendors, and says Social Security officials need to better manage the project.

Gruber said Social Security will continue to work with Lockheed “to make sure that we are successful in the delivery of this program.”

Steve Field, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, would only say that the company is committed to delivering the program.

Nearly 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits. That’s a 45 percent increase from a decade ago. The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,146.

The report comes as the disability program edges toward the brink of insolvency. The trust fund that supports Social Security’s disability program is projected to run out of money in 2016. At that point, the system will collect only enough money in payroll taxes to pay 80 percent of benefits, triggering an automatic 20 percent cut in benefits.

Congress could redirect money from Social Security’s much bigger retirement program to shore up the disability program, as it did in 1994. But that would worsen the finances of the retirement program, which is facing its own long-term financial problems.

Social Security disability claims are first processed through a network of field offices and state agencies called Disability Determination Services. There are 54 of these offices, and they all use different computer systems, Gruber said.

If your claim is rejected, you can ask the state agency to reconsider. If your claim is rejected again, you can appeal to an administrative law judge, who is employed by Social Security.

It takes more than 100 days, on average, to processing initial applications, according to agency data. The average processing time for a hearing before an administrative law judge is more than 400 days.

The new processing system is supposed to help alleviate some of these delays.

TIME

Relatives Fly to Taiwan Plane-Crash Site, 48 Dead

TAIWAN-AVIATION-ACCIDENT
Rescue workers and firefighters search through the wreckage where a TransAsia Airways flight crashed the night before near the airport at Magong on the Penghu island chain on July 24, 2014 Sam Yeh—AFP/Getty Images

The TransAsia Airways plane from southern Taiwan crashed into a residential neighborhood on Penghu, an island chain in the Taiwan Strait, killing 48 of the 58 passengers on board. The aircraft unsuccessfully attempted to land in stormy weather late on Wednesday

(TAIPEI, Taiwan) — Family members of victims of a plane crash were flying to the small Taiwanese island on Thursday where the plane had unsuccessfully attempted to land in stormy weather, killing 48. There were 10 survivors, and authorities were searching for one person who might have been in a wrecked house on the ground.

The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed into a residential neighborhood on Penghu in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late Wednesday, authorities said. The plane was on a flight from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.

Two people aboard the plane were French citizens and the rest Taiwanese, Transport Minister Yeh Kuang-shih told reporters. The government’s Central News Agency identified the French passengers Thursday as Jeromine Deramond and Penelope Luternauer.

The twin-engine turboprop crashed while making a second landing attempt, Yeh said.

The news agency quoted a TransAsia Airways statement as saying family members had taken a charter flight on Thursday morning to Magong airport, near where the crash happened.

The crash of Flight GE222 was Taiwan’s first fatal air accident in 12 years and came after Typhoon Matmo passed across the island, causing heavy rains that continued into Wednesday night. About 200 airline flights had been canceled earlier in the day due to rain and strong winds.

The official death toll was 48, according to Wen Chia-hung, spokesman for the Penghu disaster response center. He said the 10 other people were injured.

Authorities were looking for one person who might have been in a house that was struck by wreckage, Wen said.

President Ma Ying-jeou called it “a very sad day in the history of Taiwanese aviation,” according to a spokesman for his office, Ma Wei-kuo, the Central News Agency reported. The agency said the plane’s captain had 22 years of flying experience and the co-pilot had 2-1/2 years. The airline was offering the family of each victim about $6,600 and paying another $27,000 for funeral expenses, the agency reported.

The plane came down in the village of Xixi outside the airport. Television stations showed rescue workers pulling bodies from the wreckage. Photos in local media showed firefighters using flashlights to look through the wreckage and buildings damaged by debris.

Penghu, a scenic chain of 64 islets, is a popular tourist site about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.

Residents said they heard thunder and then what sounded like an explosion, the news agency said. It cited the Central Weather Bureau as saying there were thunderstorms in the area.

“I heard a loud bang,” a local resident was quoted as saying by television station TVBS. “I thought it was thunder, and then I heard another bang and I saw a fireball not far away from my house.”

The flight left Kaohsiung at 4:53 p.m. for Magong on Penghu, according to the head of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration, Jean Shen. The plane lost contact with the tower at 7:06 p.m. after saying it would make a second landing attempt.

Visibility as the plane approached was 1,600 meters (one mile), which met standards for landing, and two flights had landed before GE222, one at 5:34 p.m. and the other at 6:57 p.m., the aviation agency reported. Shen said the plane was 14 years old.

The Central News Agency, citing the county fire department, said it appeared heavy rain reduced visibility and the pilot was forced to pull up and attempt a second landing.

The Central Weather Bureau had warned of heavy rain Wednesday evening, even after the center of the storm had moved west to mainland China.

In Taipei, TransAsia Airways’ general manager, Hsu Yi-Tsung, bowed deeply before reporters and tearfully apologized for the accident, the news agency said.

“As TransAsia is responsible for this matter, we apologize. We apologize,” Hsu said.

Taiwan’s last major aviation disaster was also near Penghu. In 2002, a China Airlines Boeing 747 broke apart in midair and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 people aboard.

___

Associated Press writers Gillian Wong, Joe McDonald and Louise Watt in Beijing and Johnson Lai in Taipei contributed to this report.

TIME justice

Arizona Inmate Dies 2 Hours After Execution Began

Joseph Wood is pictured in this booking photo.
Joseph Wood is pictured in this booking photo. Arizona Department of Corrections—Reuters

FLORENCE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona officials say a murderer who was sentenced to death has died nearly two hours after his execution started.

Joseph Rudolph Wood’s lawyers had filed an emergency appeal in federal court during the execution demanding that it be stopped. The appeal said Wood was “gasping and snorting for more than an hour.”

Attorney General Tom Horne’s office says Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.

A message seeking comment was left with the Arizona Department of Corrections.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed the execution but could not immediately communicate with anyone outside the state prison in Florence where the execution took place.

The execution came after the U.S. Supreme Court denied several appeals seeking details about the state’s execution methods.

There have been several controversial executions recently, including that of an Ohio inmate in January who snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die.

TIME Autos

GM Issues 6 More Safety Recalls

(DETROIT) — General Motors is issuing six more recalls covering a total of almost 718,000 vehicles in the U.S.

The latest recalls bring the total for GM so far this year to 60, affecting a record 29.7 million cars and trucks. GM already has passed the 22 million vehicles recalled by all automakers last year.

The biggest recall announced Wednesday was for just over 414,000 cars and small SUVs for faulty seats. Other problems include incomplete welds on seat brackets, turn signal failures, power steering failures, loose suspension bolts and faulty roof rack bolts.

TIME

FAA Continues Ban on U.S. Flights to Tel Aviv

Israeli rescue and military personnel at the wreckage of a home in the town of Yehud, outside Tel Aviv, and near the Ben Gurion Airport, that was hit by a missile fired by Palestinian militants from inside the Gaza Strip, July 22, 2014.
Israeli rescue and military personnel at the wreckage of a home in the town of Yehud, outside Tel Aviv, and near the Ben Gurion Airport, that was hit by a missile fired by Palestinian militants from inside the Gaza Strip, July 22, 2014. Gideon Markowicz—EPA

(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Aviation Administration says it will continue its ban on U.S. airline flights to Tel Aviv while assessing the danger of rocket attacks.

The agency said Wednesday it is working closely with the Israeli government to review new information they have provided and to determine whether safety concerns have been resolved.

FAA instituted the flight prohibition on Tuesday in response to a rocket strike that landed about a mile from the airport.

The directive applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport.

TIME

Plane crashes in Taiwan, 47 Trapped, Feared Dead

Rescue workers survey the wreckage of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 which crashed while attempting to land in stormy weather on the Taiwanese island of Penghu, late Wednesday, July 23, 2014.
Rescue workers survey the wreckage of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 which crashed while attempting to land in stormy weather on the Taiwanese island of Penghu, late Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Wong Yao-wen—AP

(TAIPEI, Taiwan) — A plane landing in stormy weather crashed outside an airport on a small Taiwanese island late Wednesday, and the transport minister said 47 people were trapped and feared dead.

Another 11 people were injured when the ATR-72 operated by Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways crashed on Penghu, an island in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China, Transport Minister Yeh Kuang-shih was quoted as saying by the government’s Central News Agency. The plane was arriving from Kaohsiung, a city in southern Taiwan.

The twin-engine turboprop plane crashed while making a second landing attempt with a total of 58 passengers and crew members aboard, according to Yeh.

President Ma Ying-jeou called it “a very sad day in the history of Taiwanese aviation” and ordered authorities to quickly clarify the details, said a spokesman for his office, Ma Wei-kuo, the news agency reported.

The plane crashed in the village of Xixi outside the airport. Photos in local media showed firefighters using flashlights to look at wreckage in the darkness, and buildings and cars damaged by debris.

About 200 military personnel were sent to help recover the people who were on the plane, Taiwanese Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he said, according to the Central News Agency.

The ministry said military vehicles and ambulances were rushing people to hospitals and an air force rescue team was on standby to transfer survivors to Taiwan’s main island if needed for treatment, the agency reported.

The flight left Kaohsiung at 4:53 p.m. for Magong on Penghu, according to the head of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration, Jean Shen. The plane lost contact with the tower at 7:06 p.m. after saying it would make a second landing attempt.

Visibility as the plane approached was 1,600 meters (one mile), which met standards for landing, and two flights had landed before GE222, one at 5:34 p.m. and the other at 6:57 p.m., the aviation agency reported. Shen said the plane was 14 years old.

But the Central News Agency, citing the county fire department, said it appeared heavy rain reduced visibility and the pilot was forced to pull up and make the second landing attempt. The news agency had earlier quoted a local fire chief as saying 51 people had been killed.

Taiwan was battered by Typhoon Matmo overnight Tuesday, and the Central Weather Bureau warned of heavy rain Wednesday evening, even after the center of the storm had moved west to mainland China.

TransAsia Airways’ general manager, Hsu Yi-Tsung, bowed deeply before reporters and tearfully apologized for the accident, the Central News Agency said.

Hsu said the carrier was arranging to take the relatives of passengers on the flight to Magong on Thursday morning and that it would spare no effort in the rescue and in handling the aftermath, the report said.

Taiwan’s last major aviation disaster also was near Penghu. A China Airlines Boeing 747 broke apart in midair in 2002 and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 people aboard.

In October 2013, a Lao Airlines ATR-72 crashed during a heavy storm as it approached Pakse Airport in southern Laos, killing all 49 people on board.

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