Report: Xiamen Airlines Flight 8301
|By: Chris Kilroy
China has proven to be a valuable and
profitable market for Boeing. This ground collision, following the hijack
of one of the planes, involved three aircraft purchased from Boeing - a Xiamen
Airlines Boeing Advanced 737, a China Southwest Airlines Boeing 707, and
a China Southern Airlines Boeing 757.
Chinese authorities rarely divulge information on air accidents involving
the dozen or so air carriers operating out of that country. Even so, China
has an exemplary record of air safety, and this tragedy, the most costly
in the dark history of air piracy before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, can be attributed only in a small part
to ground control procedures at Baiyin airport. The greater part of the guilt
lies with the pirate himself. His desperate act cost 132 innocent people
Xiamen Airlines, one of the newer operators in China, operates regular services
on a number of internal routes. A Boeing Advanced 737, one of a fleet of
737 jetliners owned by Xiamen, was making a routine domestic flight between
Xiamen, in the province of Fujian, to Canton 230 miles (370km) to the southwest.
At an unconfirmed time during the flight, a young man announced to the cabin
crew members that he had explosives strapped to his body, and demanded that
the pilot re-route to Taiwan, where he presumably was seeking political
The hijacker ordered all the flight crew except the pilot out of the cockpit.
The pilot attempted to reason with the young man, informing him (correctly)
that the 737 had insufficient fuel reserves for the flight to Taiwan. As
a compromise, the captain offered to fly to Hong Kong, but his pleas fell
on deaf ears. The aircraft continued its heading toward Canton, and then
began to circle, as the captain tried in vain to convince his hijacker of
the futility of his demands.
These negotiations went on for
some time, until low fuel warnings began to sound on the flight deck. This
left the captain with no choice but to attempt a landing at Baiyin airport,
Moments before touching down, the hijacker appears to have attempted to wrest
control of the aircraft, causing it to thump down hard onto the aircraft,
and swerve left into a "holding area." Still travelling at considerable speed,
the starboard wing of the 737 sliced into the forward fuselage of a parked
China Southwest Airlines 707. The pilot, who was on the flight deck performing
routine preflight checks, was only slightly injured.
Also standing in the path of the runaway jet was a China Southwest Airlines
757, awaiting take-off clearance for a scheduled flight to Shanghai. Colliding
with the port wing and upper central fuselage of the 757, the Xiamen 737
turned upside down and finally came to a halt. Of the 104 passengers on board
the Xiamen 737, 84 died in the tragedy, along with 47 people on the 757 and
the driver of a vehicle.
The Chinese authorities, who are usually reluctant to criticise their own
procedures, admitted that it had been a serious mistake to allow an aircraft
to taxi while the hijacked aircraft was attempting to land.