Taipei's mayor and others are hailing the pilot of TransAsia Flight 235, which crashed Wednesday shortly after takeoff, for steering the aircraft into a river and avoiding buildings and likely more casualties.
"We really have to thank that pilot," a tearful Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je said of Liao Chien-tsung, the 42-year-old pilot who died in the crash. "He really tried his hardest."
The comments were reported by The Associated Press.
Dramatic video of the crash showed the ATR 72-600 propjet barely clearing buildings near Taipei's Songshan airport, clipping an elevated roadway with its left wingtip before falling into the shallow Keelung River. The plane was carrying 58 people; at least 31 of them were killed. Fifteen passengers survived the crash; 12 are still missing.
"The pilot's immediate reaction saved many people," said Chris Lin, brother of one of the survivors, told Reuters. "I was a pilot myself and I'm quite knowledgeable about the immediate reaction needed in this kind of situation."
Experts said it's too soon to tell whether Liao's actions prevented a higher toll. Investigators are piecing together what happened to the aircraft, which crashed shortly after takeoff. The plane's black boxes were recovered Wednesday.
Liao has nearly 5,000 flying hours under his belt, Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration said; his copilot, who also was killed, had nearly 7,000 hours.
Reuters adds: "Taiwanese media reported that Liao, the son of street vendors, passed exams to join the air force. He later flew for China Airlines, Taiwan's main carrier, before joining TransAsia."
The AP reported today that moments before the plane crashed one of the pilots told the control tower: "Mayday, mayday, engine flameout."
The aircraft itself was less than a year old; one of its engines had been replaced in April 2014 because of a fault with the original engine.
Aviation experts say the ATR 72-600, the most modern version of the plane made by ATR, is among the most popular turboprop planes worldwide. It is known to be safe and reliable, as well as cheap and efficient to operate.