After staying too long at her parents' house in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second city, Chen Caijia and her son arrived at the airport too late to board their Wednesday afternoon flight back home to Penghu Island, an archipelago in the Taiwan Strait loved by windsurfers and beach-goers.
They can count themselves lucky. At least 47 people were feared dead after a TransAsia Airways plane crashed Wednesday while trying to make an emergency landing in stormy weather in the Penghu Islands off the coast of Taiwan.
Others were less fortunate. Soldier Cai Minhua tried Tuesday to return to his military base on Penghu, after a vacation, but the flight, a short hop of 35 minutes, was canceled as Typhoon Matmo approached. Cai ended up on Wednesday's TransAsia Airways flight GE222, along with six members of the Chen family, all residents of Magong, Penghu's pretty main town.
Their flight crashed just a mile from its destination, Magong airport, in stormy weather at the typhoon's tail end.
The mother's escape, and the soldier's death on duty, were among the earliest narratives of survival and loss to emerge, as reported by Taiwan's United Daily News, Hong Kong's Apple Daily and Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao Online.
Villagers rushed to rescue passengers in heavy rain. The plane crashed into two empty houses, avoiding deaths in the ground.
But hard questions will be raised about why the flight went ahead. The plane, already delayed in its take-off by bad weather, apparently crashed after aborting a first landing attempt. Across the Taiwan Strait in mainland China's Fujian province, authorities had canceled flights and trains earlier Wednesday in anticipation of Typhoon Matmo's arrival.
Taiwan Transport Minister Yeh Kuang-shih, who said 47 people were feared dead, was quoted by the government's Central News Agency as saying another 11 people were injured after the ATR-72 aircraft crashed outside the airport in Xixi village while attempting a second landing.
Later, he said that 46 "were missing" and that crews at the crash site had found around a dozen bodies, according to the agency.
Yeh said flight carried 58 passengers and crewmembers. The CNA, quoting a local fire brigade chief, had initially reported the death toll at 51.
Flight GE222 was flying from Kaohsiung, a major city on the southwest coast of Taiwan's main island, to Magong, one of two airports on Penghu Island, which is located halfway between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait.
The Taiwan News reports that the aircraft took off more than 90 minutes late because of the poor weather, and the pilot reportedly asked to wait until 7:06 p.m. before being allowed to land.
The plane slammed into the ground in the village, setting fire to at least two houses. Photos in the local media from the crash site showed a handful of firefighters using flashlights to look at wreckage in the darkness.
Taiwanese media identified the pilot as 60-year-old Lee Yi-liang and his co-pilot as Chiang Kuan-hsing, 39, and said each had flown over 20,000 hours, according to Taiwan News.
Although the center of Typhoon Matmo had already swept through the islands, heavy rain and strong winds from the system continued to batter the area.
A radar image from the moment of the plane crash showed heavy rain over the area, AccuWeather reports.
CNN reported that the storm brought 10 inches of rain in the area and winds up to 47 mph.
The accident happened in the Taiwan Strait that separates the self-ruled island from mainland China, which has in the past threatened to invade if Taiwan ever formally declares independence. Cross-Strait relations have warmed in recent years under the current Taiwanese administration, led by the Nationalist KMT Party, the former foes of Chairman Mao's Communist Party. Many Taiwanese remain nervous about closer economic ties with China and have held demonstrations this year.
Calum MacLeod reported from Beijing. Contributing: Sunny Yang in Beijing, Doyle Rice in McLean, Va.