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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 15:23 EDT

Peru hunts for bodies after jet crash, 41 dead

August 24, 2005

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) – Rescue workers with machetes hacked
through swamps on Wednesday to search for bodies in the
wreckage of a 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 the Boeing 737-200 as the search resumed at
daybreak.

“They weren’t whole bodies, but remains, all charred by
fire,” said Marco Ochoa, a state prosecutor leading the
investigation at the crash site in Pucallpa, 490 miles
northeast of Lima.

The airliner carrying 92 passengers came down in swamps 1.8
miles from the Pucallpa airport as it tried to land on Tuesday
in heavy storms. Police said the plane broke in two on landing
and the front half caught fire.

“We’ve located 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.

Authorities did not expect to find more passengers alive.

“The survivors were seated in the back of the plane,” said
police officer Johnny Luna in Pucallpa. “They managed to get
out and walk through the swamp to the nearest road,” he added.

The flight 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
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.

A local television reporter said the debris from Tuesday’s
crash was scattered over a 5,300-square-foot (500-square-metre)
area.

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

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

Police said an Italian man died in the crash, but the
Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome could not confirm the death.

The police said an American man, a Colombian woman and a
Spanish woman also died in the crash. The Spanish woman’s death
was confirmed by Spain’s Foreign Ministry.

Six U.S. citizens, all from the same family in New York,
survived, a family member in Peru told Reuters.

STRONG WINDS CITED AS CAUSE

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.

Experts said the harsh weather at the time of landing meant
there was little the two pilots, who local media said died,
could have done to avoid the accident.

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

“Those crosswinds 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.

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 Airline crashed in the
Andes as it prepared to land in Arequipa, 600 miles south of
Lima. All 123 people aboard were killed.