updated 2/8/2009 12:05:59 PM ET 2009-02-08T17:05:59

A handful of survivors seated at the rear of a plane that crashed in a muddy Amazon jungle river managed to open an emergency door and swim to safety before the aircraft sank, dragging at least 24 others to their death.

Divers on Sunday recovered the bodies of two dozen people who were killed when the twin turboprop plane plunged into the Manacapuru river in a heavy rainstorm, firefighter Maj. Jair Ruas Braga said.

Seven children died in the Saturday afternoon crash, along with nine women and eight men. A 9-year-old child was among four people who survived.

"It was all very fast. The plane sank very fast," 21-year-old survivor Brenda Moraes told GloboNews TV. "We only had a chance because we were sitting in the last rows and could open the emergency door."

One engine stopped
Relatives of the survivors told Brazilian media that one of the engines apparently stopped about an hour into the 185-mile (300-kilometer) flight, which originated in the city of Coari. The plane went down about 50 miles (80 kilometers) short of its destination in Manaus, capital of Amazonas state.

The survivors "opened the rear door and left the plane while it was submerging," Walcione Tavares told GloboNews TV. Local residents were the first to arrive at the scene, and rescuers reached the survivors later Saturday.

Another relative, Roberto Buchdid, said his wife called and told him to alert authorities.

"She was very scared," Buchdid said.

The four survivors suffered only minor injuries and were in good condition on Sunday, said Marcelo Alves Cabral, director of the hospital where they were treated. He told Globo's G1 Web site that the worst injury was a deep cut on the back of a 23-year-old man.

"They told me that when they heard one of the engines stop, the plane lost altitude and hit something before going nose-first into the water," Cabral said.

The plane was operated by Manaus Aerotaxi. Company director Fernando Bezerra said the aircraft had undergone all of its scheduled maintenance inspections, and Brazil's Civil Aeronautics Agency said its documentation was up to date.

The Brazilian air force said the flight plan showed 20 people were on board, but some of the children may not have been listed.

Rescuers continue to search river
It was not clear whether everyone on board had been accounted for, and rescuers continued to search the area after a witness reported seeing what appeared to be a body being carried off by the river's current, air force spokesman Lt. Col. Henri Munhoz said.

Munhoz said authorities would investigate whether the plane was carrying more people than allowed.

The air force said the pilot contacted air controllers to report encountering driving rain, but he did not specifically mention engine trouble. Brazilian media, citing witnesses and local authorities, said the pilot may have been trying to make an unscheduled landing at the Manacapuru airport less than 1.6 miles (1 kilometer) from the crash site.

Authorities were still investigating, and it was not clear if any tourists were on board.

Local media said local police officers reported the flight was packed with members of a family heading to Manaus to celebrate a relative's birthday.

Eight divers remained at the scene preparing the plane to be removed from the river. Braga said it was only partially damaged.

Although water landings are rare, last month a US Airways pilot successfully brought a commercial jet down in New York's Hudson River without a single death among the 155 people on board.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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