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Philippines Plane Crash Kills 14

November 11, 2002

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Investigators focused on possible engine failure after a twin-engine commuter airplane carrying 34 people, including tourists from Australia and Britain, crashed into Manila Bay minutes after takeoff early Monday.

At least 14 people aboard were killed and 16 survived after being plucked from the water, some by fishing boats, said Alvin Manual Yater, assistant vice president of Laoag International Airlines.

Hopes of finding more survivors diminished late Monday, with four people still missing.

The 44-seat Fokker 27 broke apart and sank in about 50 feet of water. Divers were hampered by mud churned up by the wreckage, part of which was raised using a floating crane.

At least six Australians were on board, and the Australian Embassy said it had been able to confirm only one survivor, Steve Thompson, 25, of Sydney. Several of the Australians remained unaccounted for.

Three British citizens also were on board.

Thompson said he saw smoke coming from the left engine just before the pilot came on the intercom to tell passengers to brace for impact. Amateur video of the stricken plane showed the right propeller was not turning as the aircraft went down.

``It means maybe the engine quit, so (the pilot) initiated maybe a return to the runway, but unfortunately he was flying so low, about 300 feet, so he decided to ditch,″ said Adelberto Yap, chief of air transportation for the Philippines.

He said both the pilot and co-pilot survived, so the investigation should go quickly. Recovery of the plane’s so-called ``black box″ flight recorders was expected Tuesday.

Thompson said he arrived in the Philippines on Sunday and was flying with five Australian friends to the northern city of Laoag for a surfing vacation in nearby Badoc.

``The plane took off. It flew for three minutes, and then the engine kind of got quiet,″ said Thompson, who had bandages on his toes and left arm, during an interview at the navy’s bayside headquarters.

``Then I noticed some smoke coming out of the left engine, and then it banked. Then we ended up down in the water,″ Thompson said.

Saying he didn’t know what happened to his friends, he began weeping as he spoke with his mother by telephone.

Yater said Flight 585 took off from Manila’s domestic airport at 6:06 a.m. for a regularly scheduled hour-long flight to Laoag, lost contact with the control tower three minutes later and crashed.

He initially said there had been no distress call, but later corrected that, saying the pilots had been aiming for a stretch of reclaimed land before going down in the water.

Joggers who were running along the bay said the plane sounded like it was having engine trouble as it tried to gain altitude.

Besides the pilot and co-pilot, the survivors include Roman Catholic Bishop Jose P. Salazar. Three people were hospitalized while others suffered only minor cuts and bruises.

The airline’s other four Fokker 27 planes were grounded as a precaution, Yap said.

Update hourly