A plane landing in stormy weather has crashed outside an airport on a small Taiwanese island, with 47 people feared dead.

Transport minister Yeh Kuang-shih was quoted by the government’s Central News Agency as saying another 11 people were injured when the plane crashed and caught fire while making a second landing attempt.

The agency had earlier cited a local fire brigade chief who said 51 people had been killed.

Flight GE222, an ATR-72 aircraft operated by Taiwanese airline TransAsia Airways, was heading from the southern port city of Kaohsiung to the island Penghu, halfway between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait, according to the news agency.

It crashed outside the airport in Xixi village, and pictures in local media showed a handful of firefighters using torches to look at wreckage in the darkness.

Penghu is a lightly populated island that averages about two flights a day from Taipei.

Mr Yeh was quoted as saying the flight carried 58 passengers and crew members.

Taiwan had been battered by Typhoon Matmo and the Central Weather Bureau was advising of heavy rain through the evening even though the centre of the storm was over mainland China.

President Ma Ying-jeou called it "a very sad day in the history of Taiwanese aviation'' and ordered authorities to quickly clarify the details, said a spokesman for his office, the news agency reported.

About 200 military personnel were sent to help recover the people who were on the plane, the Defence Ministry said, according to the Central News Agency.

The ministry said military vehicles and ambulances were rushing people to hospital and an air force rescue team was on standby to transfer survivors to Taiwan’s main island if needed for treatment, the agency reported.

Visibility as the plane approached was 1,600 metres, which met standards for landing, and two flights had landed before GE222, the aviation agency reported.

But the Central News Agency, citing the county fire department, said it appeared heavy rain reduced visibility and the pilot was forced to pull up and make the second landing attempt.

TransAsia Airways general manager Hsu Yi-Tsung bowed deeply before reporters and tearfully apologised for the accident, the Central News Agency said.

Mr Hsu said the carrier was arranging to take relatives of passengers on the flight to Magong tomorrow morning and that it would spare no effort in the rescue and in handling the aftermath, the report said.

Taiwan’s last major aviation disaster also was near Penghu. A China Airlines Boeing 747 broke apart in mid-air in 2002 and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 people aboard.

In October last year, a Lao Airlines ATR-72 crashed during a heavy storm as it approached Pakse Airport in southern Laos, killing all 49 people on board.

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