BEIJING -- The spectacular crash of a hijacked Chinese jetliner at Canton airport yesterday may have stemmed from a bomb explosion during a struggle inside the plane's cockpit during landing, according to reports from the scene.
The 737 hit two airplanes on the ground and burst into flame. China's official news agency said 127 passengers were killed and 53 were injured.
An additional 100 passengers survived the fireballs that engulfed two of the planes about 9 a.m. yesterday on the tarmac of the Baiyun (White Cloud) Airport, Xinhua said. It was not clear how many of the casualties were from each of the planes.
One civil aviation official said that a bomb exploded aboard the 737 as it was landing. He said a Chinese man, about 27, wanted to force the plane to Taiwan.
The bomb went off after a struggle in the cockpit when the hijacker realized the plane was landing at Canton and not Taiwan, the official said.
A Western survivor of the crash also spoke of trouble in the cockpit.
The state news agency only said that, upon learning of the hijacking, civil aviation authorities authorized the jet's crew to land at any airport and that, upon landing, "something abnormal happened."
The crash occurred when the hijacked plane from the southeastern China city of Xiamen overshot the runway, glanced off an empty Boeing 707 and fell onto a packed Boeing 757 waiting to take off for Shanghai, according to Chinese and Western reports.
The three planes were owned by China's state airlines.
A Swedish businessman aboard the Shanghai-bound plane told a Swedish diplomat here that the landing gear of the hijacked jet clipped the cockpit of the empty plane and landed atop the wing of his airliner, before the incoming plane exploded and flipped upside-down on the runway.
Xinhua said that the 757 was destroyed and that the 707 "suffered severe damage."
Chinese authorities, displaying their normal secretiveness about hijackings, provided few details of what took place on the morning flight from Xiamen, believed to be carrying 94 passengers and 10 crew members.
One American, Erin Lynne Thomas, was among the survivors and was in good condition at a Canton hospital, a U.S. diplomat here said, but the fate of at least one other American woman was not known.
Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Macau citizens were believed to be among the dead or injured, but no passenger lists were available.
Canton's Baiyun Airport, a major air traffic hub for southern China, is one of China's busiest airports, and yesterday was a particularly heavy day for air travel in China, as this week is a holiday period celebrating the country's National Day on Monday and its mid-autumn Moon Festival tomorrow.
This, the fourth reported hijacking in China in two years, occurred while Chinese authorities were taking extra security cautions to protect against feared terrorist actions during the Asian Games, an Olympic-style sports meet now being held in Beijing.
Chinese Premier Li Peng flew from Beijing to Canton, which China calls Guangzhou, about 2 p.m yesterday to inspect the crash site with regional officials and visit the injured at hospitals, the state news agency said.