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47 Killed in Crash of Panama Airliner

June 08, 1992|From Times Wire Services

PANAMA CITY — The wreckage of a Panamanian airliner that vanished with 47 passengers and crew after taking off from Panama City was found Sunday near the Colombian border, an airline spokeswoman said. All aboard were killed.

The Boeing 737-200's fuselage was spotted in the Darien Pass with bodies and clothing strewn near the wreckage, said Grisilda Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Copa Airlines.

The wreckage was found near the rural town of Tucuti, about 50 miles from the Colombian border, by Panamanian and U.S. military search aircraft, Sullivan said.

She could not confirm radio reports that said there were indications the aircraft might have exploded before crashing.

The plane was carrying 35 Colombians; nine Panamanians, including seven crew members; two U.S. citizens, and an Italian. Names of the passengers and crew were withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Authorities said operations to recover the bodies were not expected to begin until today because night was falling and operations would be severely limited by the mountainous jungle around the crash site.

Copa Flight 201 was bound for the southwestern Colombian city of Cali on Saturday night when it disappeared from radar screens.

Panamanian authorities said the pilot had altered his route to avoid a thunderstorm but told air traffic controllers that everything was fine just two minutes before the plane vanished at 8:56 p.m. Saturday (6:56 p.m. PDT).

Sosimo Guardia, chief of Panama's civil aviation authority, said the plane's pilot changed his course to avoid the storm about 20 minutes after takeoff and then returned to his normal course.

Guardia said many of the passengers were businessmen from Cali. He denied Colombian radio reports that Indians in Panama's border province of Darien had heard an explosion Saturday night and then spotted wreckage of the airliner.

Asked about reports that the plane could have been hijacked, Guardia said he did not rule out any possibility but said it was unlikely.

Boeing said the 737-200 was delivered to Britannia, a charter aircraft company, in 1980 and that Copa was apparently leasing the plane from Britannia.

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