Survivors describe jet crash that killed 41
Updated: 8:30 a.m. ET Aug. 24, 2005
LIMA, Peru - The description is hellish: fire so fierce that it overwhelmed the hail and wind all around the crashed airliner as it lay in a marsh in rural Peru.
The fact that it could be told by a survivor was miraculous given that at least 41 of the 100 people aboard the airliner died when the aircraft split in two after an emergency landing in a fierce storm.
Eleven U.S. citizens were said to have been on board in what was the world’s fifth major airline accident this month. At least one American died.
TANS Peru Flight 204, a Boeing 737-200, was on a domestic flight from the Peruvian capital Lima to the Amazon city of Pucallpa when the pilot tried to make an emergency landing about 20 miles from Pucallpa.
The pilot tried to land in a marsh to soften the impact but the landing split the aircraft in two.
Some survivors said they escaped the burning wreckage of the plane in a hailstorm and waded through knee-deep mud to get away.
Fear of explosion
“I felt a strong impact and a light and fire and felt I was in the middle of flames around the cabin, until I saw to my left a hole to escape through,” survivor Yuri Gonzalez told Radioprogramas. “Two other people were struggling to get out and I also was able to.”
He said he heard another person shouting to him to keep advancing because the plane was going to explode.
“The fire was fierce despite the storm,” he said. “Hail was falling and the mud came up to my knees.”
“It’s really a Dantesque scene,” police officer Arioso Obregon said of the scene when he arrived.
One U.S. citizen who survived said the turbulence just before the landing was the worst she had ever experienced while flying.
Monica Glen, of Irvine, Calif., told CBS that she and her husband were seated in the middle of the plane and tried to exit through a side door but were forced back by the fire. They instead got out through a rear exit after pushing and shoving among survivors.
Glen said her husband suffered burns on his face and hands and would be taken to a Lima hospital Wednesday.
Search suspended overnight
Police Lt. David Mori told The Associated Press that 41 dead passengers had been recovered from the plane and 56 people were being treated at hospitals. Rescue workers had to suspend searches for bodies in the wreckage due to darkness and bad weather overnight but planned to resume operations at dawn Wednesday.
“There were people who walked away from the crash uninjured,” he said. “It’s not very clear how many.”
Among the dead were at least three foreigners — an American woman, an Italian man, and a Colombian woman, Mori said. Many of the bodies could not immediately be identified and at least three people were still missing, he said.
Police and survivors said many passengers suffered severe burns and broken limbs and were being treated in Pucallpa hospital.
The plane circled the airport, then crashed near a highway, according to officials and radio reports. Before the crash, the pilot radioed that he could not land because of strong winds and torrential rains, airport receptionist Norma Pasquel told The Associated Press by phone.
“The pilot said we’d be there in 10 minutes, but the turbulence was strong. ... We felt a fierce impact, there were flames and fires around us,” said passenger Yuri Salas.
Wind shear suspected
Jorge Belevan, a spokesman for TANS, said the plane was on a domestic flight carrying 92 passengers and eight crew members and was attempting an emergency landing when it crashed near Pucallpa, 305 miles northeast of Lima.
“The plane did not crash. It did not fall. The plane made an emergency landing,” Belevan said, adding that it did not appear the crash was caused by a technical failure in the 22-year-old aircraft.
“The preliminary information we have is that the accident could have been caused by wind shear,” he said.
Wind shear is a sudden change in wind speed or direction. The most dangerous kind, called a microburst, is caused by air descending from a thunderstorm.
Tomas Ruiz, another passenger, told Radioprogramas: “It seems it was a matter of the weather. Ten minutes before we were to land in Pucallpa, the plane began to shake a lot.”
The crash was the world’s fifth airliner accident this month.
Last week, 152 people died when a Colombian-registered West Caribbean charter went down in Venezuela. Two days earlier, 121 people died when a Cyprus-registered Helios Airways Boeing plunged into the mountains north of Athens.
Sixteen people were believed to have died Aug. 6 when a plane operated by Tunisia’s Tuninter crashed off Sicily. In Toronto, all 309 people survived aboard an Air France Airbus A340 that overshot the runway on Aug. 2.
Reuters contributed to this report.
What's up with the sudden rise in crashes?