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'Black Box' of Plane That Crashed in Peru Is Found

South America: Flight recorder is expected to give clues to disaster that killed 123. But cause may not be known for a month.

March 02, 1996|From Reuters

AREQUIPA, Peru — Investigators on Friday found the flight recorder of a Boeing 737 airliner that slammed into a mountain in Peru's southern Andes, killing all 117 passengers and six crew members on board.

Officials said the so-called "black box" should yield vital clues but warned that it could be a month before the full cause of the worst air disaster in Peru's history is known.

Meanwhile, rescue crews Friday combed the barren canyon near the city of Arequipa, 425 miles southeast of Lima.

Officials and reporters at the site 10 miles from Arequipa where the jet went down Thursday night said only a few charred bodies were recognizable in the still-burning wreckage.

"It's confirmed that, lamentably, there are no survivors," said a statement by Peru's Faucett Airlines, which operates the airplane.

Rescuers collected the human remains in rows of white plastic bags, while hundreds of onlookers and relatives wept and prayed nearby.

The plane left Lima's international airport at 7:12 p.m. Thursday local time and went down about 8:15 p.m. as it prepared to land at Arequipa.

Vast burn marks showed where the plane plowed into the mountainside at 8,200 feet above sea level in the Ciudad de Dios district outside Arequipa. The plane's tail broke off, and debris was strewn across the canyon.

Faucett and airport officials said conditions were foggy at the time of the crash and added the plane may have suffered "mechanical failures" prior to hitting the mountain.

"But we really do not know yet exactly what has happened," Faucett spokesman Jorge D'Acuna said.

The passengers included 66 Peruvians, 42 Chileans, three Belgians, two Bolivians, two Canadians, one Brazilian and one Argentine, according to Faucett.

Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence, saying he was "deeply moved to hear the painful news." Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori also expressed "profound lament."

Airport and Faucett officials said the plane had been cleared for landing and crashed five minutes before it was due to touch down at Arequipa's Rodriguez Ballon airport, which is at an altitude of 8,404 feet.

"The pilot spoke to air traffic control five minutes before it was due to land, but then all contact was lost," D'Acuna said.

In Arequipa on Friday, hundreds of distraught relatives thronged the city morgue, where they were allowed to enter one or two at a time to attempt to identify victims.

"It's a truly dreadful situation," said Gustavo Rondon Fudinaga, chief medical examiner for the Arequipa region. He said 50 people were working on the autopsies on 103 bags full of human remains.

Peruvian Atty. Gen. Blanca Nelida Colan also visited the morgue, and he promised a full investigation.

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