October 31, 2011 12:11
The bodies of the two pilots of an Asiana Airlines cargo plane that crashed off Jeju Island on July 28 were recovered on Sunday, 94 days after the accident. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affair said a private rescue team hired by Asiana discovered and retrieved the cockpit of the plane on Saturday 104 km from an islet off the western coast of Jeju.
The ministry added that it moved the cockpit to Jeju port on Sunday morning and found the bodies of Choi Sang-gi (52), the captain of the plane, and Lee Jeong-wung (43), his co-pilot.
According to ministry officials, the bodies of the pilots were heavily decayed after being crushed by the frame of the cockpit, but both were sitting in their seats with their seatbelts fastened and were wearing their uniforms. It was difficult to identify their bodies, but officials were able to determine their identities through the name tags on their uniforms.
But search and rescue workers have still not retrieved the plane's black box, which contains crucial data that could help solve the mystery of the crash. The ministry said search operations will end Monday due to the colder temperatures and resume in March next year.
The pilot apparently took out life insurance policies from five different insurers between the end of June and mid July. Total compensation amounted to nearly W3 billion (US$1=W1,107). There were rumors that Choi had around W1.5 billion of debts, leading to speculation that he deliberately crashed the plane so his family could collect the insurance money. However, it later emerged he actually was only W200 million in debt.
An official at the General Insurance Association of Korea said compensation is usually paid to the surviving family three or four days after claims are received. But insurers are reluctant to pay Choi's family until the aircraft's black box is found.
If it cannot be found, insurers will not be able to withhold payment indefinitely. "In the end, it looks as though the insurers will have to pay," the official added.
Aviation experts say the fact that Choi's body was found strapped to the pilot's seat suggests that he and his co-pilot had attempted to avoid crashing the aircraft until the last minute. If the pilot had deliberately crashed the plane, it would have nosedived into the ocean, and the impact would have been so hard that nothing would be left of the bodies.
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