06/02/2015 3:05 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Taiwan 'Hero' Pilot Found Clutching Joystick Of Crashed Plane

TPG via Getty Images
TAIWAN, CHINA -FEBRUARY 06: (CHINA MAINLAND OUT)Firefighters keep on searching the missings of TransAsia air crash on 06th February, 2015 in Taipei, Taiwan, China(Photo by TPG/Getty Images)

The pilot of the crashed TransAsia plane was still clutching the joystick when his body was found in the cockpit, after he battled to avoid populated areas, reports said today as the airline faced sanctions over its second fatal accident.

The TransAsia Airways ATR 72-600 crashed shortly after take-off from Songshan airport in Taipei on Wednesday, hitting an elevated road as it banked steeply away from buildings and into the Keelung River.

Pilot Liao Chien-tsung, 41, was among at least 35 people who lost their lives in the accident. Fifteen people survived and rescuers are still searching the river and submerged wreckage for another eight who remain missing.

Liao has been hailed as a hero for apparently making a last-ditch attempt to steer the turboprop plane, with 53 passengers and five crew on board, away from built-up areas during its steep descent, avoiding more deaths and damage. His body was found in the cockpit still holding the joystick with both hands, and with his legs badly fractured, the Taipei-based China Times newspaper said.

"He struggled to hold onto the joystick till the last moment before the plane plunged into the river, in an attempt to control its direction and to reduce casualties," the report said, citing unnamed prosecutors investigating the case. Taiwanese leaders and citizens have mourned Liao, with major newspapers running front-page tributes hailing him for saving many lives.

As hundreds of rescuers and divers battled bad weather to search for those still missing, with four more bodies retrieved today, authorities banned the airline from applying for new routes for one year in the wake of the latest incident.

Wednesday's accident, which occurred on a domestic route to the island of Kinmen, was the second fatal crash for TransAsia after a July disaster that left 48 people dead.