Third U.S. victim identified in Peru plane crash
By Mariana Bazo
PUCALLPA, Peru (Reuters) – A third American was identified
among the dead after a plane crash in a swamp in the Peruvian
jungle as searchers swarmed over the wreckage on Thursday, some
trying to help, others seeking to loot.
Police said torrential rain had hampered the search for an
Australian woman and two other people, still unaccounted for
after a TANS Boeing 737-200 crashed in a freak hailstorm in
Peru’s northern jungle on Tuesday, killing 40.
The plane was reduced to chunks of charred rubble and body
parts were strewn about, yet more than half the 98 passengers
and crew miraculously survived.
Officials said it was too early to say why the plane
crashed, but suggested bad weather or pilot error may have been
Six of the victims have still not been named but TANS
spokesman Jorge Belevan said an American woman had now been
identified. The death toll already included two Americans, a
man and a woman, as well as a Spanish woman, a Colombian woman
and the pilot.
“One Italian person is apparently also among the remains
still to be identified,” Belevan said. “There is a lot of
confusion because in some cases pieces of human remains are in
one bag or two,” he told Reuters.
Hundreds of people swarmed knee-deep in mud over the
wrecked fuselage — some hunting for the black box, some for
the three missing victims and others scavenging for loot or
Thousands of bank notes — wages being flown in for police
officers — littered the site.
People were seen walking down the street in Pucallpa, the
town near the crash site, carrying seats and metal rods.
Several locals said police had promised a reward for
whoever finds one of the plane’s two black boxes, but this was
not confirmed. One flight recorder has already been found.
Distraught relatives said the morgue was overwhelmed.
“There are dead people thrown on the floor, people with no
arms,” one woman told RPP radio.
DESPAIR AS COFFINS ARRIVE
In Lima, dozens of relatives wept as the coffins of their
loved ones were flown in on an air force plane, which also
carried 19 of those injured in crash.
Belevan said relatives of the dead would receive about
Survivors, including a 9-year-old girl who rescued her baby
cousin and a man who watched his skin shrivel as a fireball
swept the plane, told stories of heroism and horror.
They said the flight was routine until the plane hit
turbulence about 10 minutes before landing and fell sharply.
“The plane was shaking and it was hailing hard, with the
ice like marbles, and we asked ourselves if we should really be
trying to land in such harsh weather,” said U.S. tourist
Gabriel Vivas, 41, from Brooklyn. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Vivas, who was traveling with five family members who all
survived, added: “As we were walking, I saw a one-year-old baby
lying outside the plane in the mud, all bruised and with a
broken arm. I went back and picked it up and we pushed our way
through the brush. I knew I had to help save it.”
Peru’s Trade and Tourism Minister Alfredo Ferrero blamed
bad weather but said the Andean country — which attracts
millions of tourists every year — must upgrade its airlines.
“Air safety in Peru is nonexistent. Everyone knows that
getting on a plane in Peru is an adventure,” said lawmaker
Jacques Rodrich, a member of Congress’ transport commission.
Many of Peru’s airports are little more than airstrips and
only the international airport in Lima has radar.
TANS, founded in the 1960s by the air force to help serve
remote jungle communities, became a commercial airline in 1998
but is heavily in debt. The crashed plane was built in 1983.
Peru has said it has had preliminary contacts about selling
a stake in the airline to Air China.