58 Survive Peru Crash As Rescue Continues

August 24, 2005

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Rescue workers including 500 police and volunteers slogged through a thick swamp on Wednesday to search for remaining bodies from the TANS jet that crashed in Peru's northern jungle, killing 40 people.

State-run TANS airline, whose Boeing 737-200 crashed in heavy storms on Tuesday, revised the death toll down from 41 and said 58 people survived the crash, one fewer than earlier stated.

TANS said it now knew that 98 people were on board the plane from Lima to the jungle city of Pucallpa, not 100 as it initially stated.

TANS spokesman Jorge Belevan told reporters that 27 bodies had been identified and 13 people were missing but "they are telling us that there is little chance they are alive."

Using flashlights at the crash site 490 miles (785 km) northeast of Lima, local men, women and children, often wading knee-deep in water and surrounded by foliage, helped to shift debris from the airliner and pull out body parts.

A photographer said some local residents appeared to be taking parts of the plane as souvenirs. Police declined to comment.

"The plane has disintegrated and we're in a very muddy area... there are victims without heads or legs," Pucallpa's police chief Ariosto Obregon, who was leading the search at the site 490 miles (785 km) northeast of Lima, told RPP radio.

The state-owned airliner came down in swamps 1.8 miles (3 km) from Pucallpa Airport as it tried to land on Tuesday during a severe storm. Police said the plane broke in two on impact and the front half caught fire.

Images of the accident showed the forested marshland strewn with blue airline seats, a man's hand sticking out of the mud and an aircraft wing caught in a tree.

"The survivors were seated in the back of the plane," said police officer Johnny Luna in Pucallpa. "They managed to get out and wade through the swamp to the nearest road."

The flight from Lima had been due to fly on to the Peruvian Amazon city of Iquitos, a popular tourist destination.

It was the third major accident involving a passenger plane in less than two weeks, after crashes in Greece and Venezuela. The last crash of a TANS aircraft was also in Peru's northern jungle. In January 2003, a TANS plane crashed into a hill in the jungle, killing all 46 people on board.

TANS said 11 US citizens were on board the aircraft that crashed on Tuesday, along with four Italians, a Colombian, an Australian and a Spaniard.

Police and diplomats confirmed the deaths of the Colombian and Spanish women.

Authorities said an Italian and an American also died in the crash, but those countries' embassies said they could not confirm the deaths. The Australian consul in Lima said an Australian woman was missing.

Six US citizens, all from the same family in New York, survived, a family member in Peru said.

Relatives said some of the cabin crew threw themselves out the emergency doors the moment the plane hit the ground and survivors spoke of fires breaking out as they landed.

About 10 minutes before landing, the plane was caught in a fierce storm that was unusual for August, survivors said.

TANS, founded in the 1960s by the Peruvian air force to help serve remote jungle communities, became a commercial airline in 1998 and has about 30 percent of the local market.

It said its flights continued as normal on Wednesday.

Peru's deadliest air crash was on February 29, 1996, when a Boeing 737 owned by the defunct Faucett Airlines crashed in the southern Andes, killing all 123 people on board.

(Reuters)