Martin Mejia  /  AP
Unidentified relatives of victims of a downed Peruvian airliner arrive at Jorge Chavez airport in Lima, Peru, on Tuesday.
updated 8/24/2005 2:07:48 AM ET 2005-08-24T06:07:48

A Peruvian airliner carrying 100 people crashed Tuesday near a jungle town while attempting an emergency landing in a storm, killing at least 41 people. The pilot tried to land in a marsh, but the impact split the aircraft in two, a regional official said.

At least 56 people from TANS Peru Flight 204 were being treated at hospitals, and it was not clear whether anyone had escaped injury in the crash, the latest of several major airline accidents around the world this month.

The Boeing 737 went down near the Pucallpa municipal airport after 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 plane circled the airport, then crashed near a highway, according to officials and radio reports.

'The fire was fierce'
Police Lt. David Mori said at least 56 people were being treated at hospitals. He said 41 people had died and that three people were unaccounted for.

Edwin Vasquez, president of the Ucayali region, where Pucallpa is located, told Radioprogramas the pilot was trying to land in a marsh to soften the impact when the plane crashed. The craft split in two, he said.

“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,” crash 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.”

Canal N television broadcast photo images of survivors being carried on stretchers from a grassy field strewn with wreckage.

Jorge Belevan, a spokesman for TANS, said that the plane was on a domestic flight carrying 92 passengers and eight crew members and was attempting an emergency landing when it crashed. He said that two of 11 Americans aboard were unaccounted for and that the others were hospitalized for treatment of unspecified injuries.

Mori told The Associated Press that three foreigners were confirmed dead: an American woman, an Italian man, and a Colombian woman.

Emergency landing
Cesar Arroyo, a provincial prosecutor, told Radioprogramas from the crash site that dozens of bodies had been pulled from the wreckage.

“There are still many more bodies to recover but now they have stopped operations because of darkness and the muddy terrain,” he said. He said work would resume Wednesday morning.

“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.

A man identifying himself as William Zea, a passenger on the plane, told CPN radio by telephone that the plane was traveling on a route from Lima to Pucallpa, and from there onto the northern jungle city of Iquitos when “the plane suffered some malfunction and we went down.”

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.”

In four other recent crashes, 152 people died when a Colombian-registered West Caribbean charter went down in Venezuela last week. Two days earlier, 121 people died when a Cyprus-registered Helios Airways Boeing plunged into the mountains north of Athens. Another 16 were believed to have perished Aug. 6 when a plane operated by Tunisia’s Tuninter crashed off Sicily. But in Toronto, all 309 people survived aboard an Air France Airbus A340 that overshot the main runway Aug. 2.

In January 2003, a TANS twin engine Fokker 28 turbojet, plowed into a 11,550-foot high mountain in Peru’s northern jungle, killing all 42 passengers — including eight children — and four crew members aboard.

Rain, low clouds and the rugged, steep terrain of the cloud forest region kept search teams from locating the wreckage for two days.

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