Plane Crashes in Northeast China, Killing 42

Forty-two people were killed and 54 injured in a plane crash in northeastern China Tuesday night.

A passenger plane carrying 96 people tried to land in Yichun city's Lindu airport amid heavy fog, overshot the runway, broke into two pieces and caught fire.

The plane's black box was found Wednesday morning, said Xinhua News Agency, but the cause of the crash is still being investigated. Officials say it may be months, or even a year, before a verdict is delivered.

Henan Airlines' Embraer E-190 jet took off from Heilongjiang province's capital city, Harbin, shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday, crashing in Yichun roughly 40 minutes after it took off. Ninety-one passengers — including five children — and five crew members were onboard, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

Xinhua officials corrected their previous body count from 43 to 42, explaining that one body had been torn apart in the crash and miscounted as two.

Qi Quanjun, the pilot, survived the crash and is currently recovering in Yichun First Hospital. Qi understood the questions but was unable to talk due to severe face injuries, doctors said.

"Qi Quanjun is badly injured and under intensive care," Mr. Yu, a hospital administrator, told ABC News. "But his condition is getting better and is not life-threatening."

Yu said the injured passengers are being treated in four hospitals throughout the city. There are currently 30 crash victims hospitalized at Yichun First.

"Most of them suffer fracture and internal injuries," Yu said. "But they're in good psychological condition."

One crash survivor, a middle-aged man lying in a hospital bed, told China Central Television station (CCTV) that turbulence during the plane's descent was very bad. Several heavy jerks caused luggage to fall from the overhead bins.

Survivors Share Their Experiences

"The [emergency exits] ... wouldn't open. Then the smoke came in... After two or three minutes, we couldn't breathe. I knew something bad was going to happen."

He and other passengers escaped through hole in the cabin wall near the first row of seats.

Another survivor, sporting a head bandage and bruised lip, said the rear of the plane hit the ground first.

"Panicked people all rushed to the front," he told state television.

Some passengers were thrown from the plane, said Kang, and their bodies were found outside the plane wreckage.

Survivor Xue Xilai, who suffers a broken lumbar and is being treated at Yichun City Hospital, lost consciousness after the accident and woke up in his hospital bed.

"I looked out [of the plane] and couldn't see anything," Xue said. "It was pitch dark and there was no light... I felt that something was seriously wrong."

The jet broke into two pieces before the crash and exploded at 9:36 p.m., local officials told Xinhua. The wreckage is roughly 1.24 miles from the runway. Airport staff said the blaze was extinguished temporarily, but flames reignited the crash site in the middle of the night.

Rescue crews were finishing up the search and starting to clear the debris from the ground at 6 a.m. Wednesday. State television broadcasted firefighters dousing the burning fuselage with hoses while enveloped in a heavy fog. Other rescuers were digging through the wreckage, looking for survivors.

Maintenance crews are still working to clear the fuselage, Ms. Kang, Lindu airport employee, told ABC News.

"All I know is the plane was supposed to land at 9:35 p.m.," Kang said. "We got notice from Harbin airport saying the plane was about to land, but it didn't."

Kang was in the airport's main lobby when the jet crashed, but didn't hear anything.

"By 10:10 p.m., there were already police cars and ambulances, rescuing survivors."

Officals Continue Rescue Effort

The plane crashed on the north side of Lindu airport, said Kang. The use of the airport is suspended and all flights have been cancelled.

In response to the crash, Chinese vice premier Zhang Dejiang led relief efforts to Yichun, assembling transportation, security and health officials. Local government also dispatched more than 500 rescuers to the crash site.

City official Xu Zhaojun said the government has completed the list of casualties, and victims' bodies are being transported to funeral homes for identification.

According to Kang, Lindu airport officials were in meetings with city and airline officials throughout Thursday morning and afternoon, and were therefore unable to comment.

Lindu airport has only been in operation for one year, said Kang, with the first flight taking place on Aug. 27, 2009.

"Lindu is considered a small terminal in Heilongjiang province," Kang told ABC News.

The airport is located in a forest roughly 5.6 miles from downtown Yichun, a city of one million people.

Henan Airlines, previously Kunpeng Airlines, launched the Yichun-Harbin service at the start of 2010. Henan Airlines primarily flies smaller regional jets, mainly on routes in north and northeast China, and is controlled by Shenzhen Airlines.

According to Xinhua, Chinese airline carriers had previously complained of problems with the Brazil-made E-190 jet, including cracks in the turbine plates and flight control system errors. CAAC organized a workshop in June 2010 to discuss the concerns.

Statistics from the CAAC put China's air travel safety record at 2,100 days, with China's last major passenger crash was in November 2004, when a China Eastern plane crashed into a northern lake and killed all 53 passengers on board, in addition to two people on the ground.

A statement in Chinese on Embraer's website said the company had sent officials to the crash scene to cooperate with the investigation.

"Embraer would like to send its deepest condolences to the families of the people who lost their lives in this accident, and hope that the people who survived can recover quickly," the statement read.

Megan Zhao contributed reporting.