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Pilot of Doomed Plane Saved Others

September 3, 1999

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) _ They were headed from one world-famous game reserve to another, traveling on an African dream safari when their charter aircraft slammed into the slope of an ancient volcano in northern Tanzania.

Ten Americans died in Wednesday’s crash. But as rescue workers clambered through a heavily forested ravine Thursday to recover their remains _ as well as those of their Tanzanian guide and their Tanzanian pilot _ one small miracle emerged.

In the last seconds of his life, the pilot managed to warn a second plane carrying seven other American tourists to change altitude to escape bad flying conditions. That plane arrived safely.

The U.S. State Department released the names of the 10 Americans on Thursday, but the task of identifying the bodies from Wednesday’s crash was likely to take several days because the plane apparently crashed at high velocity into Mount Meru.

The dead included a Massachusetts doctor and his father from Florida, a retired farm wife from Washington and a New Jersey couple. Also killed were a Californian man and a woman from Florida.

Another passenger, Cameron Ennis, 37, of Stamford, Conn., was on his first real vacation after 15 years of building up his own financial consulting firm. The three-week trip _ his first abroad _ was meant to be the reward, said his partner, Patty Barrington.

``This was the first time he felt confident enough about leaving his clients to go on a trip,″ Barrington said. ``He was just starting to enjoy his life.″ Ennis’ mother and brother, from New York, were also on the flight.

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

Northern Air pilot Christopher Perreira and guide Wilson Meiriali also died in the crash of the Northern Air Cessna 404, officials said.

Air traffic controllers at the small airport in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha said they monitored a final message from Perreira warning the pilot of a second Northern Air plane to change altitude.

The second aircraft arrived safely at Kilimanjaro International Airport, and the family of six and a friend continued their safari into Kenya’s Masai Mara reserve. It was not possible to immediately contact the group, and it was not clear whether they knew the first plane had gone down.

The 17 Americans were on a trip organized by Abercrombie and Kent, one of the largest tour companies running upscale safaris to East Africa from around the globe. The company has declined comment, as has Northern Air.

It was the second disaster in a year for Abercrombie and Kent. The company was one of several groups that ran lodging camps for treks to see mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park in late 1998, where eight foreign tourists were abducted and killed by Rwandan Hutu rebels who had crossed into Uganda.

The Serengeti, which lies just south of the Masai Mara in Tanzania _ and the adjacent Ngorongoro Crater _ draws tourists from around the world to its vast plains where lions, wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, gazelles and rhinos roam.

The base of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a favorite of climbers, is 38 miles northeast of the airport to which the tourists were headed. Mount Meru, at 15,067 feet, is the highest peak on the rim of the crater of an ancient volcano that looms over Arusha.

Maasai tribesman living in the mountain’s densely forested foothills were the first to locate the crash site Wednesday afternoon, about 3,000 feet up its mist-shrouded western slope.

``I went this morning to the crash site to help the rescue team,″ said Elias Samuel, wrapped in a characteristic Maasai red plaid cloth. ``It was a terrible sight, bones smashed ... pieces of flesh hanging on the cypress trees.″

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

Heavy clouds and drizzle on Wednesday had hampered access to the site where the plane went down.

``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 who participated in the search.

Officials said the weather cleared for a few hours Thursday morning, allowing a helicopter to land closer to the site, but worsened again in the afternoon, further hampering the removal of the bodies.

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