TAIPEI, July 23 (Xinhua) -- Thirty-six people have been confirmed dead from a Taiwan plane crash Wednesday evening, and rescuers are still searching the debris for survivors.
So far workers have recovered 36 bodies from the site, a local fire brigade official said.
The figure could further rise, however, as earlier reports said close to 50 people were feared dead after the passenger plane, operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways, smashed into residential buildings while attempting an emergency landing in stormy weather.
Flight GE 222, carrying 54 passengers and four crew members, was flying from Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan to Penghu Islands in the west.
Twelve people were injured and sent to hospital. The rest remain missing.
According to the transport authority, the passengers included two French nationals. No one from the Chinese mainland was on board the plane.
One of the black boxes has been found, according to the authority.
The twin-engine ATR-72 turboprop aircraft was originally scheduled to take off at 4 p.m., but left Kaohsiung at 5:43 p.m. due to bad weather.
As the plane was preparing to land at Magong Airport in heavy rain, it was forced to pull up due to poor visibility.
The aircraft requested to circle above before trying to land but lost contact with the tower, said Jean Shen, director general of Taiwan's civil aeronautics administration, at a press conference.
On its second attempt at landing, the flight crashed into residential buildings in the village of Xixi in Penghu. Several villagers were also injured in the crash, according to local media reports.
A flurry of reports have generated somewhat chaotic information, with earlier local media reports quoting also sources from local transport authority as saying that 47 people had been confirmed dead in the plane crash.
It is not instantly clear what had led to the failed landing. Wang Hsing-chung, head of Taiwan's aviation safety council, said it is still too early to speculate the cause of the crash.
But many have blamed foul weather conditions, for the accident took place just as typhoon Matmo slammed the island with heavy rains and strong winds, shutting financial markets and schools.
There had been 11 aviation accidents in waters off the Penghu islands since 1967, resulting in 289 people dead or missing.
Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou expressed deep sorrow on Wednesday night after learning of the plane crash, and has instructed relevant authorities to investigate the accident in a timely manner, according to his office spokeswoman Ma Wei-kuo.
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, also conveyed condolences personally and on behalf of the mainland people.
Xi, who is on a Latin America tour, felt "deeply grieved" after learning the tragedy has caused heavy casualties, said a statement from the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (SCTAO).
Xi told the SCTAO to convey to relevant Taiwan departments his deepest sympathies over the loss of lives, and extended condolences to the relatives of the victims.
According to TransAsia Airways, the pilot of the 13-year-old plane had 22 years of flying experience and the co-pilot had professional experience of two and a half years.
TransAsia Airways, founded in 1951, is Taiwan's first private airline, mainly focusing on the island's market and short trip overseas flights. It is now the third airline company in Taiwan.
The ATR 72 is a twin-engine turboprop short-haul regional airliner built by the French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR. It can take more than 70 people on board.