LONDON - British and South Korean authorities were cracking down on Korean Air today after one of its cargo planes crashed in a fireball moments after takeoff, narrowly missing a village.
As investigators combed through the wreckage near Stansted Airport, 38 miles north of London, examining debris and looking for remains of the 747's four crew members, British transport officials ordered intensified pre-flight checks of Korean Air planes operating in Britain.
In Seoul, the South Korean government extended until May 2001 a ban on Korean Air additions of international routes or flights.
Korean Air, the world's 13th-largest airline, has suffered a series of accidents at home and abroad in recent years.
Air-traffic controllers received no distress calls from the pilot in the moments before the crash yesterday, said Charles Clark, assistant chief constable of Essex County police.
"Whatever happened, the pilot didn't get a chance to call back on it," he said, adding that it was unclear whether the explosion occurred in the air or when the plane hit the ground.
There were no casualties on the ground, where local residents watched the aircraft hurtle over homes in flames near Great Hallingbury, three miles southeast of the airport.
Clark said it would take several days to sort through the wreckage, stretched over about one square mile from the end of the runway, through fields and into a forest.
Investigators have located the cockpit voice recorder.
The 19-year-old Boeing 747-200F - which a Boeing spokesman said had made at least 15,000 flights - was bound for Malpensa Airport in Milan, Italy, with 64 tons of cargo.
Tony Lilliott, assistant chief fire officer of Essex County, said 4.4 pounds of explosives were on board, but that they simply would have burned away. He said the fireball probably came from burning fuel.
In Seoul, Korean Air spokeswoman Cho Mo-ran identified the four crewmen as pilot Park Duk-kyu, 57; co-pilot Yoon Ki-sik, 33; engineer Park Hun-kyu, 38; and maintenance mechanic Kim Il-suk, 45.
If the airline is found responsible for the London crash, it could face stiffer sanctions, including fines or the loss of existing routes, said Kim Chang-sup, a director-general in South Korea's Ministry of Construction and Transportation.