The plane, a 70-seat ATR 72, crashed near the runway while trying to land on the small island of Penghu, west of Taiwan island, with 54 passengers and four crew on board. Ten people were injured and taken to hospital.
“Today is a very sad day in the history of Taiwan aviation,” Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said in a statement.
“All of Taiwan is grieving.”
China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is on a Latin America tour, felt “deeply grieved” after learning the tragedy has caused heavy casualties, the mainland’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement, according to the Xinhua news agency.
The mainland and Taiwan have been rivals for decades, with the mainland regarding Taiwan as a renegade province, though commercial relations have grown in recent years.
Of the 48 victims, two were French nationals, the French foreign ministry said in a statement. The aircraft took off from Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung, headed for the airport of Makong, but crash-landed in Huxi township of Penghu County, the main island of the chain also known as the Pescadores.
No one on the ground was hurt.
Typhoon Matmo hit Taiwan on Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and strong wind, shutting financial markets and schools. It later passed the island and headed into China, downgraded from typhoon to tropical storm.
Taiwan’s civil aviation authorities said the weather on Wednesday had been suitable for flying and they were trying to determine the cause of the crash.
“There were nine flights on the same route between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. yesterday. Only the TransAsia flight crashed,” said Jean Shen, director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.
“The weather reports showed it was totally OK for landing. We cannot say for sure what went wrong at this point. The flight safety committee has opened an investigation. They will complete an official report within a year.”
Shares of TransAsia Airways fell 7 percent at the opening bell and were down 5 percent at noon. The main index was up 0.1 percent.
Taiwan has had a poor record for aviation safety over the last two decades, though it has improved recently after the government tightened up safety measures.
TransAsia and bigger rivals, China Airlines and Eva Airways, have been facing pressure from higher energy prices and the increasingly popular budget airlines. TransAsia Airways is a Taiwan-based airline with a fleet of around 23 Airbus and ATR aircraft, operating chiefly short-haul flights on domestic routes as well as to mainland China, Japan, Thailand and Cambodia, among its Asian destinations.