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Pilot of Doomed Plane Warned Others

September 2, 1999

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) _ Minutes before crashing into a mist-shrouded mountain, the pilot of a charter plane carrying 10 American tourists from a Tanzanian game park warned a second plane to change altitude because of bad weather, rescue officials said today.

All 12 people aboard the first plane, a Northern Air Cessna 404, were killed, officials said.

The names of the 10 Americans were being withheld pending final identification. Tanzanian pilot Christopher Perreira and Tanzanian guide Wilson Meiriali also died in the crash, officials said.

The tourists were part of a group of 17 Americans flying from the Serena Serengeti Lodge in the Serengeti National Park on Wednesday morning to Kilimanjaro International Airport before heading to Nairobi, Kenya.

In a final message, monitored by air traffic controllers at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, Perreira warned a second plane, carrying the remaining seven tourists in the group, to change altitude because of the bad weather.

The second aircraft arrived safely at Kilimanjaro International Airport, and the passengers proceeded to Nairobi, Kenya.

The first plane crashed about 3,000 feet up the western slope of Mount Meru, a 15,067-foot peak on the rim of the crater of an ancient volcano. A dense cypress forest layers the slopes of the mist-covered mountain.

The plane apparently hit a tree, then lost both wings before plowing into a ravine, said Deogratias Ngowi, an Air Kenya official who visited the crash site today.

``All the passengers were thrown clear of the aircraft. The only person found remaining in his seat was the pilot,″ Ngowi said.

Air Kenya had been scheduled to transport the passengers, on a tour operated by Abercrombie and Kent, on the final leg of their trip to Nairobi.

Police and medical rescue teams reached the site at first light today, more than 19 hours after the crash, according to several of the searchers. A base camp was set up at the foot of the mountain to receive bodies for transfer to nearby Arusha.

Mountainous and densely forested terrain, low clouds and drizzle hampered access to the site where the crash occurred around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Rescuers were forced to walk more than six hours to reach the wreckage.

``The weather was very bad, clouds were very low ... and visibility was less than 900 feet,″ said Julian Boullin, a paramedic from African Research Medical Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya, who participated in the search.

The weather cleared today, allowing a helicopter to land closer to the site located in the Mount Meru Forest Reserve in Arusha National Park, he said.

``The bodies are dismembered and scattered as far as 500 meters (yards) from the wreckage,″ said Geoffrey Saddle, a police officer in the regional crimes division.

Mount Meru is located slightly north of Arusha, where most safaris to the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro Crater begin.

Margaret Munyagi, head of the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority, said the pilot of the Northern Air charter did not report any problems to the control tower.

Arusha-based Northern Air refused to comment.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said U.S. officials had received a manifest from the charter company and were in the process of contacting the passengers’ families.

Update hourly