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69 Dead in Argentine Jet Crash

September 1, 1999

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ A Boeing 737 jetliner hurtled out of control and crashed in flames during takeoff, killing dozens of people aboard after hopscotching a busy boulevard beside this downtown airport.

The plane plunged to the ground Tuesday evening next to a golf course along the Rio de la Plata river, flames flickering against the night sky.

At least 69 of the 103 people aboard Flight 3142 were killed, local news agency Noticias Argentinas quoted officials as saying. TV reports suggested the toll could rise.

The airline, Lineas Aereas Privadas Argentinas, or LAPA, said there had been 98 passengers and five crew aboard, but gave no casualty figures. LAPA is a major carrier on domestic flights and select international routes.

Hospital officials said 34 were injured, many with burns. At least one of the injured _ a coast guard officer whose leg was severed _ was on the ground, the news agency Diarios y Noticias reported.

LAPA spokesman Ricardo Wilson said the plane took off from Jorge Newberry airport, Argentina’s second-largest, at 8:55 p.m. and lost contact with the tower a minute into its scheduled flight to Cordoba, 475 miles northwest of the capital.

Neither he nor investigators released a possible cause.

It only took seconds for some aboard to realize something was going wrong.

Survivor Fabian Alejandro Nunez said he felt the plane losing control, lifting just feet into the air before settling back down. The engines went silent and the plane swooped to earth, he said.

A billboard alongside the highway was sheered away. A fence was clipped. One news report said three cars were hit before the plane screeched to a halt.

La Nacion newspaper reported that three bodies were found in the wreckage of a car near the plane.

``I saw people on fire. I was able to save myself through the rear of the plane,″ Nunez told Noticias Argentinas.

Jorge Desposito, a coast guard official patrolling the river’s Costanera Avenue, described a ``ball of fire.″ Desposito, who was uninjured, pulled his car over and ran to help.

``I pulled four people out. Two of them were dead,″ Desposito said. ``I saw many people who were badly burned.″

The airport remained closed today while investigators inspected the still-smoldering tangle of metal and crumpled seats. The charred remains bore evidence of a fire that completely consumed the plane.

One bystander in his 30s, who wouldn’t give his name, said he saw a young man and a woman escape by jumping from the plane. ``They were shouting frantically, ’We’re safe! We’re safe,‴ said the man, interviewed by The Associated Press at the scene.

Although it wasn’t clear from the mountains of debris, the man said some cars were struck by the plane and dragged.

President Carlos Menem went to the airport soon after the disaster. So did Buenos Aires’ mayor, Fernando de la Rua. ``We are doing all we can,″ de la Rua said.

Police cordoned off the wreckage as firefighters poured water on the wreckage. Ambulances took away victims, sirens blaring amid a scene of nighttime confusion.

Mariela Tabera, 36, said she was in her apartment blocks away. ``I opened the window, and I saw the flames rising up,″ she said.

Many still anxiously waited today to learn what happened to relatives aboard the flight.

Outside one hospital, Rosa Lombardo wept as she waited for word of her husband. ``I always worry about him when he flies. I can only hope,″ she said.

It was the worst known aviation disaster at the Buenos Aires downtown airport. With the airport closed, authorities said flights would operate instead out of the Ezeiza International Airport west of Buenos Aires.

The region’s last major air disaster killed 74 people when an Argentine DC-9 operated by Austral airlines crashed Oct. 10, 1997. That plane crashed near Nuevo Berlin, close to the western border of Uruguay, while en route to Buenos Aires from the northeast Argentine city of Posadas.

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