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3 U.S. Victims in Air Crash Identified

Venezuela: Relatives and investigators arrive at cemetery, where 24 new coffins lay. Tourists often took the airline to visit the renowned Angel Falls.

January 27, 2001|From Associated Press

CIUDAD BOLIVAR, Venezuela — Diplomats, forensic scientists and anguished relatives rushed to this central Venezuelan city Friday to claim the bodies of 24 people, including 20 tourists, who perished when an aging DC-3 propeller plane slammed into a shantytown and burst into flames.

Victims of Thursday night's crash included three U.S. citizens, three Canadians, five Dutch nationals, four Italians, two Hungarians, two Venezuelans and one Austrian. All four Venezuelan crew members also were killed.

The American victims were Lee Arbour and wife Lisa, as well as Jason Hall, U.S. Embassy spokesman Jeremy Carper said. Their hometowns were not made public. The names of the other tourists who died were not immediately available.

At a Ciudad Bolivar cemetery, grieving Venezuelan families stared at 24 gray metal coffins that lay on the ground. Bolivar state Gov. Antonio Rojas Suarez tried to console the relatives. Forensic scientists and foreign diplomats filtered into the city to work on identification.

"The pain is ours, not theirs," Anabelle Manrique, wife of the plane's co-pilot, Walter Manrique, said through tears, nodding toward police standing between the crowd and the coffins. She had been waiting since dawn to claim her 44-year-old husband's remains.

Venezuelan investigators arrived Friday afternoon at the crash site strewn with charred clothing, currency and luggage. The plane's tail section and mangled engine parts and propeller blades were visible behind yellow police tape.

Rutaca Airlines Flight 224 departed from Canaima, in the southern state of Bolivar, and headed for Porlamar on the Caribbean tourist island of Margarita. Tourists often use the airline to visit Venezuela's Angel Falls, the world's highest.

The plane stopped in Ciudad Bolivar, about 300 miles southeast of Caracas, to refuel and crashed after taking off. It burst into flames upon impact, setting fire to homes and showering the Abobo shantytown with debris. Residents screamed and fled their homes.

The government ordered an inspection of DCs--about 20 in all--used by Rutaca and other Venezuelan airlines, and the suspension of all Rutaca flights.

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