Investigators discover hole in fuel tank of burnt-out China Airlines jet

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The burnt-out wreckage of the aircraft.
Image: Thomas Mitchell.

Investigators have discovered a hole in the fuel tank of the China Airlines jet that caught fire and exploded on August 20 on the island of Okinawa, Japan.

Investigators from Japan, Taiwan and the United States have all been examining the wreckage of China Airlines Flight 120 since the accident. Now, Japanese investigators say that they have found that a structural bolt had pierced the fuel tank of the Boeing 737-800 series aircraft.

"We spotted a hole in a fuel tank," said a brief statement by the transport ministry's investigative division."We suspect that oil leaked from this hole and spilled from the right wing to the outside."

It is understood that, prior to the discovery of the hole, the investigation had been focusing on the tubing connecting the fuel tank to the engine, rather than the tank itself.

Taiwan-based China Airlines's only comment was to repeat earlier comments that the plane had been inspected last month, at which point the airline had been unable to find any problem with it. However, prior to this news, the chief executive flew to Okinawa to console worried tourists, while chairman Philip Wei offered to resign " a bid to shoulder his responsibility,", according to an airline official. The airline is also offering compensation to passengers on the flight.

Boeing refused to comment on the incident, citing the fact that the investigation remains open. However, the Jiji Press has reported that Boeing had warned airlines in 2006 about the possibility of bolts piercing the fuel tanks, after a number of incidents in which tank piercing was found to have occurred.