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Brazilian Plane Crashes in Suburb of Sao Paulo, 98 Killed

October 31, 1996

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ A Brazilian jetliner crashed into a residential neighborhood in Sao Paulo shortly after takeoff today, igniting a river of fire that engulfed apartments, homes and cars. A civil defense official said all 95 people on board were killed.

Three other bodies were pulled from the rubble, and the death toll was expected to rise as firefighters searched homes and apartments struck and set on fire by the crash.

At least one U.S. citizen was on the plane _ David Francis Tobolla, a financial director at Citibank, a company official said in Sao Paulo. His hometown was not released.

One resident of the middle-class neighborhood where the plane crashed said he saw ``a river of fuel on fire flowing down the street.″

Dozens of bodies lay covered with black plastic on the sidewalk, while firemen sprayed water on smoking rubble. Pieces of the plane were strewn over the neighborhood, and parked cars were burning.

Police and firemen used plywood planks as makeshift stretchers to carry bodies to black morgue trucks.

Roberto Pacheco de Toledo, head of the police’s Special Operations Group, said 98 bodies were in the morgue.

``They all were mutilated and carbonized,″ he said, asking families to bring dental records to help identify the victims. ``There’s no sense in just coming (to the morgue), because they won’t recognize anyone.″

Col. Leopoldo Correia of the Sao Paulo fire department said the flight data recorder was found.

``When we arrived, we saw cars burning, houses demolished, and parts of bodies amid the wreckage,″ Correia said. ``It was like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.″

Part of the fuselage stuck out of a garage roof. Pieces of twisted metal and melted plastic littered the asphalt on Luis Orsini de Castro Street. Black smoke poured into the sky.

``I knew something was wrong with this one. The noise was too loud,″ said resident Joao Cardoso. ``All of a sudden I heard an explosion that shook the roof of my house.″

He said when he rushed out of his house all he could see smoke and blazing fuel on the street.

The Fokker-100 belonging to the regional airline TAM was leaving Sao Paulo on a 45-minute flight to Rio de Janeiro when it crashed about one mile from the runway, civil defense Sgt. Carlos Santana said by telephone.

``Our information from the scene is that there were no survivors,″ he said.

Santana said the plane took off at 8:30 a.m. in clear, sunny weather and failed to gain altitude, striking an apartment building and 10 houses and then bursting into flames.

Gerson de Paula, a 27-year-old hairdresser, said the plane clipped an apartment building, hit the ground and skidded along the street, spilling fuel and igniting cars and homes.

``There almost certainly are victims in the houses, but we won’t know for sure until we get reports from firefighters,″ Santana said.

The Congonhas airport, which handles domestic flights for Sao Paulo, was closed briefly due to the heavy smoke.

Firemen blocked off the crash site, where red-tile-roofed houses lined narrow, winding streets.

Conceicao de Souza Gomes tried to help a neighbor staggering down the street after the crash.

``I heard an explosion, and I saw a man with his hair on fire. I put it out with some rags,″ she said. ``He was still conscious and saying `Help me, for the love of God.‴

She said an ambulance took the man away.

Thirteen people were treated for shock, burns and minor injuries at the nearby Jabaquara Municipal Hospital. Seven were hospitalized, one in serious condition with burns.

Sonia Litwin was alone at home when the plane crashed and her house caught fire. She fled to the roof, and her neighbor extended a plank from his roof so she could escape the flames.

``I don’t know how I got out of this alive. It’s a miracle. God must love me,″ Litwin said.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso promised a thorough investigation and expressed his sympathies for the victims’ families. Sao Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf declared three days of mourning.

Brazil’s last domestic plane crash occurred March 2. Seven people were killed, including five members of the popular rock band Mamonas Assassinas, when their private plane crashed into a mountain in southern Brazil.

The last crash in Sao Paulo was on March 21, 1989, when a Boeing 707 cargo jet slammed into a hillside slum outside the city, killing 15 people on the ground and all three crew members.

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