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Peru Airliner Splits in Two, Kills 41
By CARLA SALAZAR, Associated Press Writer 24 minutes ago
A Peruvian airliner split in two after an emergency landing during a fierce storm, killing at least 41 people. It was the world's fifth major airline accident this month.
TANS Peru Flight 204, a Boeing 737-200 with 100 people on board, was on a domestic flight from the Peruvian capital Lima to the Amazon jungle city of Pucallpa when the pilot tried to make an emergency landing about 20 miles from Pucallpa on Tuesday, said Edwin Vasquez, president of the Ucayali region where the city is located.
The pilot tried to land in a marsh to soften the impact but the landing split the aircraft in two, he said.
Some survivors said they escaped the burning wreckage of the plane in a hailstorm and waded through knee-deep mud to get away.
Police Lt. David Mori told The Associated Press that 41 dead passengers had been recovered from the plane and 56 people were being treated at hospitals. Rescue workers had to suspend searches for bodies in the wreckage due to darkness and bad weather overnight but planned to resume operations at dawn Wednesday.
"There were people who walked away from the crash uninjured," he said. "It's not very clear how many."
Among the dead were at least three foreigners — an American woman, an Italian man, and a Colombian woman, Mori said. Many of the bodies could not immediately be identified and at least three people were still missing, he said.
The plane circled the airport, then crashed near a highway, according to officials and radio reports. Before the crash, the pilot radioed that he could not land because of strong winds and torrential rains, airport receptionist Norma Pasquel told The Associated Press by phone.
"I felt a strong impact and a light and fire and felt I was in the middle of flames around the cabin, until I saw to a my left a hole to escape through," survivor Yuri Gonzalez told Radioprogramas. "Two other people were struggling to get out and I also was able to."
He said he heard another person shouting to him to keep advancing because the plane was going to explode.
"The fire was fierce despite the storm," he said. "Hail was falling and the mud came up to my knees."
Canal N television broadcast photo images of survivors being carried on stretchers from a grassy field strewn with wreckage.
Jorge Belevan, a spokesman for TANS, said the plane was on a domestic flight carrying 92 passengers and eight crew members and was attempting an emergency landing when it crashed near Pucallpa, 305 miles northeast of Lima.
"The plane did not crash. It did not fall. The plane made an emergency landing," Belevan said, adding that it did not appear the crash was caused by a technical failure in the 22-year-old aircraft.
"The preliminary information we have is that the accident could have been caused by wind shear," he said.
Wind shear is a sudden change in wind speed or direction. The most dangerous kind, called a microburst, is caused by air descending from a thunderstorm.
Tomas Ruiz, another passenger, told Radioprogramas: "It seems it was a matter of the weather. Ten minutes before we were to land in Pucallpa, the plane began to shake a lot."
The crash was the world's fifth airliner accident this month.
Last week, 152 people died when a Colombian-registered West Caribbean charter went down in Venezuela. Two days earlier, 121 people died when a Cyprus-registered Helios Airways Boeing plunged into the mountains north of Athens.
Sixteen people were believed to have died Aug. 6 when a plane operated by Tunisia's Tuninter crashed off Sicily. In Toronto, all 309 people survived aboard an Air France Airbus A340 that overshot the runway on Aug. 2. In January 2003, a TANS twin engine Fokker 28 turbojet, plowed into a 11,550-foot high mountain in Peru's northern jungle, killing all 42 passengers — including eight children — and four crew members aboard.
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