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Burma Airliner Crashes in Rainstorm, 49 Die : 8 Californians Among 14 Americans Killed on Domestic Flight

October 12, 1987|From Times Wire Services

RANGOON, Burma — A Burmese domestic airliner flying through monsoon rains crashed Sunday into a ridge studded with 12th-Century pagodas, killing all 49 people on board, including 14 Americans, government radio and Western diplomats said.

A brief Rangoon radio report said the Fokker Friendship F-27 twin-prop plane belonging to the government-owned Burma Airways Corp. "crashed after a midair fire near Phanaung village" shortly before it was to land. Other sources said it was not clear whether the fire occurred before or after impact.

"It was learned that there were no survivors among the 49 people aboard," the radio report said.

The disaster was the second involving a Burma Airways plane in less than four months.

Thirty-six foreign tourists and 13 Burmese, including a child and four crew members, were killed in Sunday's crash, the radio said. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said 14 Americans, including eight Californians, were on the plane.

In Washington, the State Department issued a list identifying 12 of the 14. A spokeswoman said officials were still trying to confirm the names of the remaining victims and notify their relatives.

The victims listed by the State Department were:

Julie Ann Butler, Calistoga (Napa County), Calif.

Edith Dalle Feste, Kentfield (Marin County), Calif.

Constance Shepard, Laguna Beach, Calif.

Reeve and Carolyn Jacques, La Jolla, Calif.

Mary Jane O'Connor, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Ellen Kent Howard, Menlo Park, Calif.

Mary Christalene Griffin, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Jack and Riba Sybert, New Orleans.

Scott and Vivian Gershen, Santa Fe, N. M.

Other diplomats said there also were seven Swiss, five British, four Australians, three Germans, two French and one Thai on the plane.

The radio report said the crash occurred Sunday morning 20 miles south of Nyaung-u airport, which serves the ancient city of Pagan, 295 miles north of Rangoon.

Burma is currently in the monsoon season of high winds and heavy rains. The U.S. Embassy spokesman said Burmese authorities reported it was raining when the plane crashed.

'No Survivors'

"According to the reports that we have been given, the plane was about 10 minutes short of Pagan's Nyaung-u airport when it crashed into a 1,000-foot ridge scattered with pagodas," said one diplomat.

"There were no survivors, and it appears that no one on the ground was killed," the diplomat said.

He said reports differed on whether the plane caught fire in one engine, exploded or hit the ground before exploding in flames. "It's clear there was a fire, but not whether it came before or after impact," he said.

The U.S. Embassy spokesman said the crash came one day after the embassy asked for and received increased police protection because of reports of "possible terrorist action against Americans in Rangoon."

"It was an unconfirmed report in the context of heightened tensions in the Middle East, and the embassy reacted," the spokesman said. "But with information we have now, we see no connection between the report and the plane crash. There are no indications there were circumstances of a bomb," he said.

On June 21, another Fokker Friendship crashed into a mountain shortly after takeoff from Heho airport, 250 miles northeast of Rangoon. All 45 Burmese on board were killed in that crash. The government has not said what caused the June crash.

Burma had not experienced a major plane crash before that in nine years. On March 25, 1978, 48 people, including 23 foreigners, were killed when a Burma Airways plane went down five miles from Rangoon airport.

That plane also was a Friendship Fokker 27, Burma Airways' mainstay aircraft.

Sunday's crash reduces the domestic airline's fleet of planes to less than half a dozen of the medium-range Fokkers.

Tourists waiting for the plane at Pagan were put on buses for the eight-hour journey to the next scheduled stop, Mandalay.

Pagan is one of the great tourist attractions of Southeast Asia, with more than 2,000 Buddhist temple ruins, many dating back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, dotting a vast plain along the Irrawaddy River.

Burma has only about 30,000 foreign tourists a year, and a high percentage go to Pagan. With road and rail transport slow and uncomfortable or non-existent, the only practical way to visit Burmese cities outside of Rangoon is by airplane.

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