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Safety fears at fatal crash airport

At least one airline had questioned the safety of night-time landings at the relatively new airport in north-east China where a passenger jet crashed and burned while trying to land at night on a fog-shrouded runway, killing 42 people and injuring 54.

The Henan Airlines plane crashed in a grassy area near Lindu airport in the Heilongjiang province city of Yichun on Tuesday.

Survivors among the 96 passengers and crew described scenes of horror, with luggage falling down and escapes through flames and broken holes in the fuselage.

It was China's first major commercial air disaster in nearly six years. The plane's two black boxes have been recovered, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, but the cause of the accident is still not known.

Vice Prime Minister Zhang Dejiang arrived at the crash site to help set up an investigation team.

State television reported that a preliminary investigation found that the plane did not catch fire or explode in the air and there were no signs of sabotage.

The newly built airport in Yichun sits in a forested valley and has operated for a year.

China Southern Airlines decided last August to avoid night flights in and out of Yichun, switching its daily flight from Harbin to the daytime. A technical notice cited concerns about the airport's surrounding terrain, runway lighting and wind and weather conditions. "Principally, there should be no night flights at Yichun airport," said the notice from China Southern's Heilongjiang branch which was posted online.

The crash and fire were so severe that little of the fuselage remained, although the charred tail was still largely intact. China Central Television said eight of the victims were found 20m to 30m from the plane's wreckage in a muddy field.

Xinhua said the pilot, Qi Quanjun, survived the crash but was badly hurt and cannot speak.

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