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69 Dead in Argentine Jet Crash

September 1, 1999

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

The LAPA airlines plane finally stopped next to a golf course along the Rio de la Plata river Tuesday evening after striking several cars on the road and bursting into flames.

``I saw people on fire,″ said one survivor, Fabian Alejandro Nunez.

At least 69 of the 103 people aboard Flight 3142 were killed, local news agency Noticias Argentinas quoted officials as saying. City Health Minister Hector Lombardo said 59 bodies were recovered before noon today amid a continuing search of the debris.

LAPA, or Lineas Aereas Privadas Argentinas, said 95 passengers and five crew were aboard, but the Buenos Aires-based airline gave no casualty figures. There were no immediate reports of any Americans on board the flight. LAPA is a major domestic carrier with only a few international routes.

Emergency crews scoured the wreckage today, taking badly burned bodies to a local morgue. Reports said investigators were also trying to determine if cars had been crushed or dragged by the plane.

Hospital officials reported receiving 34 people, many with burns. At least one of the injured _ a coast guard officer whose leg was severed _ was not a passenger, the news agency Diarios y Noticias reported.

``Today is a day of mourning for all of Argentina,″ said Interior Minister Carlos Corach.

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.

Another LAPA official, Guillermo Capotti, said today that results of the investigation would take time and he would not speculate on local media reports focusing on a problem in one of the plane’s turbines.

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

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.

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

The plane sheered through a fence and clipped a billboard alongside the highway. La Nacion newspaper reported that three bodies were found in the wreckage of a car near the plane.

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.″

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.

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 on the whereabouts 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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