Investigators are examining large metal fatigue cracks near a rear door on the China Airlines Boeing 747-200 that crashed into the sea on 25 May. Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council (ASC) has called a halt to further salvage work, having recovered about 80% of the wreckage and 175 of the 225 people on board.

"At the moment we can only say that a metal fatigue crack located at the aircraft's No 5 rear door was larger than expected," says ASC chief Kay Yong.

Twenty minutes after take-off from Taipei for Hong Kong, the 747 was seen clearly on military radar to have broken into four sections that fell into the sea.

Yong cautions that the information released is factual data, not a judgement of the cause, but adds there is no evidence of pilot error or technical problems. Yong says weather and terrorism have been ruled out.

The ASC does not expect to publish its final report before September 2004.

ASC members say repairs to damage in the tail section of the 22-year-old aircraft almost 20 years ago may have been a factor in the fatigue cracks.

Source: Flight International