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Brazilian Airliner Crashes; 49 Dead, Two Survive

January 3, 1987

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ A Brazilian Varig Boeing 707, one engine in flames soon after takeoff, crashed and disintegrated in a forest outside Abidjan early Saturday, killing 49 of the 51 people aboard.

Two gravely injured passengers survived, according to airline and Ivory Coast officials. The airline said one survivor was an Ivory Coast citizen and the other was from France. Other reports identified the second person as a Brazilian of Lebanese origin.

The dead included one American, a German couple and a Briton, according to the airline’s office in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The other victims were from Africa and South America. Varig identified the American only as L. Cleveland, without providing a hometown, and an airline official said he did not know whether the couple was from East Germany or West Germany.

U.S. Embassy personnel flew over the crash site, about 12 miles from the sprawling city limits of Abidjan, the largest city of this former French colony in West Africa. They described the scene as ″devastating.′ ′

Willy Holmes, an embassy cultural affairs officer, told The Associated Press that officals reported ″there were very little traces of the aircraft. The impact was such that the plane exploded. There was nothing there.″

Television film from the area, which was later sealed off by soldiers, showed French military and Ivory Coast rescue workers searching through dense undergrowth and felled trees for bodies and debris from Flight 797. The crash touched off brush fires.

Holmes said Saturday evening that only six or seven bodies had been found.

Soldiers who sealed off the area said the four-engine jetliner crashed about 300 yards from the small La Me River, which rescuers had to cross in knee-deep mud, near the village of Grand Alepe. They said debris from the plane still was burning.

The flight for Rio took off about 1 a.m. from Abidjan’s Port Bouet airport carrying 39 passengers and 12 crew members. The pilot immediately reported problems to the control tower, then said he had an engine fire.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse said the pilot’s last message was that he was circling to dump excess fuel before coming back to land.

When contact was lost, the control tower called for help from French marines stationed near the airport under military aid agreements. Two units headed for the crash area on dirt roads and by foot.

A French helicopter pinpointed the site by the flames about an hour after the crash. Helicopters were unable to land in the jungle, but four French soldiers, including a doctor, were lowered to the wreckage and found the two survivors, Lt. Col. Jean-Claude Blache, the unit’s second-in-command, told AFP.

The agency reported the survivors were in very serious condition in Abidjan’s Cocody Hospital and that one was in a coma.

Varig’s office in Rio said the jet, which was purchased in 1968, was sold recently to Brazil’s air force.

A Spanish military aircraft crashed on takeoff from Bata in Equitorial Guinea Friday, killing 22 people. On Oct. 19, a Soviet-flown Tupolev-134 crashed in South Africa, killing Samora Machel, president of Mozambique.

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