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Bodies of 8 Crash Victims Recovered

THE NATION

Puerto Rico: Two are yet to be found; there are no survivors. The Air Force plane hit a mountain.

August 09, 2002|From Associated Press

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico — Rescue crews struggled up a muddy mountainside Thursday to recover the bodies of 10 military personnel killed when an Air Force special operations plane slammed into a mountain.

The victims were based in Florida and Puerto Rico, the military said.

Police in this U.S. Caribbean territory said they had recovered eight bodies, some charred and dismembered, in addition to parts of the plane's fuselage.

The bulky MC-130H hit a heavily wooded area on the outskirts of Caguas, 20 miles south of San Juan, while flying in rain and fog Wednesday night.

It was the second accident in as many months involving a Combat Talon II, a special operations variant of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane. The other crashed in June while taking off from an airstrip in Afghanistan, killing three U.S. military personnel.

People who saw Wednesday's crash told reporters the low-flying plane smashed into Monte Perucho, broke in two and erupted in flames, scattering body parts and pieces of plane.

Local resident Eulalia Martinez, 75, said the impact made her house tremble and flames lighted up the night sky.

"Everything was very bright, very bright, and with the force the house shook," Martinez said on WAPA radio.

Rescuers carrying stretchers and supplies climbed a narrow mountain trail made treacherous by rain, fog, dense woods and soggy underbrush. They rappelled down an 80-foot drop to recover one body.

Three helicopters circled the crash site, but clouds forced them to retreat at least once and land at a baseball park being used as an operations center for the recovery work.

"Military officials on the scene have confirmed there are no survivors," said Steve Lucas, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

He said seven crew members aboard the aircraft were based at Hurlburt Field, near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and the three others were from Puerto Rico. The names of the victims were being withheld until relatives could be informed, Lucas said.

The plane belonged to the Air Force Special Operations Command and was on a training mission from Roosevelt Roads Naval Station at the east end of Puerto Rico to the Borinquen Air Station on the west coast of the island.

The force of the impact ripped open the plane's fuselage, and parts of the debris caught fire, said Rafael Guzman, executive director of the State Emergency Management Agency.

The plane that crashed in Afghanistan, which also was from Hurlburt Field, is being investigated by two separate boards. Officials said it was unlikely the $155-million, four-engine turboprop craft was shot down.

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