August 24, 2005

Peru pulls bodies from swamp as jet crash kills 40

By Mariana Bazo

PUCALLPA, Peru (Reuters) - Several hundred police and
volunteers worked into the night in a muddy swamp on Wednesday
to search for remaining bodies from a 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

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."

Most of those on board the plane were Peruvian, but there
were 18 foreigners, including 11 U.S. citizens. Belevan said
two of the Americans, a man and a woman, were among the dead. A
Colombian woman and a Spanish woman also died in the crash,
according to police and diplomats.

The U.S. embassy in Lima had no comment.

Using flashlights at the crash site 490 miles 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 Reuters photographer at the scene 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, told RPP

The airliner came down in swamps 1.8 miles from the
Pucallpa airport as it tried to land during the storm. Police
said the plane broke in two on impact and the front half caught


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."

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. Two
members of the cabin crew survived.

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
mountainside, killing all 46 people on board.

TANS said four Italians, a Colombian, an Australian and a
Spaniard were among those aboard the doomed plane. Authorities
said one Italian died in the crash, but the Italian embassy
could not confirm the death. 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 relative in Peru told Reuters. Nineteen survivors
arrived in Lima on a special flight on Wednesday night.

TANS, founded in the 1960s by the Peruvian air force to
help serve remote jungle communities, became a commercial
airline in 1998.

It said its investigation into the cause of the crash would
last up to four months.

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.