August 24, 2005

Peru searches for bodies after jet crash, 41 dead

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Rescue workers with machetes hacked
on Wednesday through swamps to search for bodies in the
wreckage of a Boeing 737-200 TANS airline jet that crashed in
Peru's northern jungle, killing at least 41 people including
foreign tourists.

Police and firefighters knee-deep in water pulled five
bodies from wreckage as the search restarted at daybreak. The
airline said 57 people survived the crash but authorities do
not expect to find more passengers alive.

The TANS airliner carrying 92 passengers came down in
swamps 1.8 miles from the Pucallpa's airport as it tried to
land on Tuesday in heavy storms. The flight was due to fly on
the Amazon city of Iquitos, a popular tourist destination.

"We've also found five more survivors and that takes the
number (of survivors) to 57. Two people are still missing and
there are 41 dead," TANS executive Jorge Belevan said.

TANS said 11 U.S. citizens were on board, along with two
Italians, a Colombian, an Australian and a Spanish woman.

Local authorities said the death toll could still rise
because of the difficult terrain for searchers near Pucallpa,
490 miles from Lima.

An America Television reporter said the plane debris was
scattered over 5,300 square feet (500 square meter) area.

"It's very inaccessible territory. The fuselage is totally
shattered. We just have to keep looking," Luis Aldana, mayor of
the nearby village of Portillo, said.

Police said an Italian man died in the crash, but the
Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome said it was not aware of an
Italian who had died.

RPP radio and police said an American man and a Colombian
woman also died in the crash but TANS declined to comment.

TANS said the plane, built in 1983 and leased from a South
African company, made an emergency landing and did not crash.

Experts said the harsh weather at the time of landing meant
there was little the two pilots could have done to avoid the

About 10 minutes before landing, the plane was caught in a
fierce storm that was unusual for the time of year and the
plane came down in flames, survivors said.

"Those cross winds produce air currents that go up and down
and a pilot simply cannot fly in such conditions," John Elliot,
president of the Peruvian pilots association, said.

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

TANS, founded in the 1960s by the Peruvian air force to
help serve remote jungle communities, became a commercial
airline in 1998. It has around 30 percent of the local market,
focusing on routes often neglected by its competitors.

The airline said its flights continued as normal on

Peru's deadliest air crash was on February 29, 1996, when a
Boeing 737 owned by the defunct Faucett Airline crashed in the
Andes as it prepared to land in Arequipa, 600 miles south of
Lima. All 117 passengers and six crewmembers were killed.