August 24, 2005

Peru pulls bodies from swamp as jet crash kills 41

By Mariana Bazo

PUCALLPA, Peru (Reuters) - Some 500 police and volunteers
slogged through a thick swamp on Wednesday to search for
remaining bodies from a jet that crashed in Peru's northern
jungle, killing 41 people.

Local men, women and children joined the hunt, often
knee-deep in water and surrounded by foliage, to shift debris
from the Boeing 737-200 TANS airliner and pull out body parts.

Fifty-nine people survived the crash. Most of those who
were on board the plane were Peruvians, except about 18
foreigners, at least two of whom were among those who died.

A Reuters 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 northeast of Lima, told RPP radio.

The state-owned airliner carrying 100 people came down in
swamps 1.8 miles from the 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.

TANS executive Jorge Belevan said 59 people survived the
crash. He added that 16 of the 41 bodies, many badly burned,
had been identified. RPP radio said all 41 bodies had been
found, but police put the figure at 36.

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
airplane 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 slammed into a
hill in the jungle, killing all 46 people on board.

TANS said 11 U.S. 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
woman and the Spanish woman.

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

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 Airline crashed in the
southern Andes, killing all 123 people on board.