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Jet With 54 on Board Missing in Brazil : Disappears Over Amazon; Toll in Cuban Crash May Reach 150

September 05, 1989|From Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — Rescue teams searched Monday for a Brazilian jetliner with 54 people aboard that vanished while flying over the Amazon jungle after the pilot said he needed to make an emergency landing.

"The plane's beacon is emitting an emergency signal that we are picking up. But it takes time to pinpoint the exact spot the signal is coming from," said Joao de Souza, a spokesman for Varig Brazilian Airlines. "We have not located the plane."

Meanwhile, the death toll in Cuba's worst air disaster was up to as many as 150, including nearly 25 people on the ground, according to Cuban news reports. The sole survivor from the plane that crashed Sunday just outside Havana's Jose Marti Airport was reported in serious condition. Nearly all of the victims were Italian tourists returning home.

In the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, air force spokesman Col. Ronaldo Borges said the search for the Varig Boeing 737-200, which disappeared Sunday, had been suspended until early today.

Last Leg of Flight

The plane vanished on the last leg of a regularly scheduled flight from the southeastern city of Sao Paulo to Belem, 2,140 miles northwest of Rio at the mouth of the Amazon River, Varig spokesman Gilberto Brito said.

The plane was carrying 48 passengers and a crew of six, all Brazilian, he said.

"In his last contact, the pilot said he would try an emergency landing," Brito said, adding that the pilot did not say why he needed to land.

The Belem supervisor for Infraero, the government agency in charge of commercial airports, said in a radio interview that the plane probably had crashed.

"A plane of that size would have no chance of a successful emergency landing in the middle of the jungle," Col. Pompeu Brasil told the Radio Liberal station of Belem.

In Belem, a Varig official said: "We have checked two rumors, one that the plane landed in Amazonas state and another that it landed on an Indian reservation in southern Para state. But nothing has been confirmed."

Brito said Flight 254 took off Sunday morning from Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city. The plane made its scheduled stops in Uberaba, Uberlandia, Goiania, Brasilia, Imperatriz and Maraba, he said.

Early Sunday evening, the plane took off from Maraba in good weather, Brito said. Shortly afterward, the pilot radioed that he was going to make an emergency landing, the spokesman said.

Varig and Infraero rescue teams began searching for the plane Sunday in dense jungle. They resumed the operation after daybreak Monday with the help of the Brazilian air force.

In the Cuban disaster, the official news agency Prensa Latina said 22 bodies had been identified by Monday evening, including four crew members and nine people on the ground. It did not release any names.

104 Bodies Carried Out

Prensa Latina said 104 bodies had been taken to the medical examiner's office.

The chartered Cubana de Aviacion jetliner en route to Milan crashed during a heavy thunderstorm shortly after takeoff, sending flaming debris plummeting into neighborhoods on the southern outskirts of the capital.

It was carrying 113 Italians, two Cubans and a crew of 11, said the Cuban ambassador to Rome, Javier Ardizones.

The cause of the crash had not been determined, but a Foreign Ministry employee in Rome said the weather appeared to be a factor.

"It was very bad, a storm, with rain and lightning," he said.

The only survivor, believed to be a seriously burned Italian man, was not immediately identified, Prensa Latina said.

President Fidel Castro and Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez visited the crash site, and then Castro visited the hospitals where Prensa Latina earlier reported that at least 63 people were taken with injuries. Many had extensive burns and multiple fractures, the agency said.

A government commission headed by Rogelio Acevedo, president of the Civil Aeronautics Institute, was investigating the cause of the crash, Prensa Latina said.

Italian television showed footage of emergency workers rushing through the wreckage carrying bodies on stretchers in the darkness. Firefighters aimed streams of water at the charred shell of the plane. Nearby were the smoldering hulks of two trucks apparently hit by the plane.

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