Argentine plane carrying 75 crashes in Uruguay; no survivors
NUEVO BERLIN, Uruguay (AP) _ An Argentine airliner crashed and exploded in neighboring Uruguay, killing all 75 people aboard, authorities said today. The jet had changed course to try to avoid a fierce rainstorm.
The Austral airlines DC-9 crashed about 11 p.m. Friday near Nuevo Berlin, a town on the banks of the Uruguay River, which separates the two countries.
``There were no survivors,″ said Brig. Juan Manuel Vazquez, secretary-general of the Argentine air force. ``The plane hit the ground with a heavy impact and is scattered over a very wide area.″
He said ``extremely difficult weather conditions″ may have caused the crash.″ There was no immediate information on the identities or nationalities of the victims.
Argentine and Uruguayan rescue teams rushed to the crash site on a large farm in an area dotted with marshes and hills, about 280 miles north of Buenos Aires.
A crater 25 feet deep and 30 feet wide marked the spot where the plane slammed into the earth, virtually disintegrating.
The surrounding area for hundreds of feet was strewn with tiny bits of debris from the aircraft and unrecognizable human remains _ small bits of bones and flesh.
Roberto Lemos, who was traveling by car from the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, to the nearby town of Fray Bentos at the time of the crash, said he saw what seemed like ``a big flash of lightning.″
``I thought it was a natural phenomenon. Afterwards, I realized it had been a plane. It was raining and there was a thunder and lightning storm,″ he told The Associated Press.
Another witness, Gonzalo Vastos, told Uruguay’s Cablevision Noticias that he saw ``a ball of fire fall behind a hill″ and then a ``huge explosion.″
Ingrid Bidegain de Bastos, who lives on a nearby farm, said she went out to watch the lightning and flooding of the storm when she suddenly saw a ``red ball that fell and exploded on hitting the ground.″
Seventy passengers, including three infants, and five crew members were aboard the flight from the northern Argentine city of Posadas to Buenos Aires, said Santiago Garcia, commercial manager of Austral, a subsidiary of Aerolineas Argentinas.
The plane had last made contact with Buenos Aires municipal airport about 40 minutes before the crash and reported it was changing its course to avoid heavy rain and hail near the capital, air force official Jorge Carnevalini said.
In Uruguay, an air force official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the plane entered an area of heavy turbulence. Other planes in the area also had reported severe conditions at the time, he said.
This morning, more than 100 relatives of the passengers and crew gathered at Buenos Aires metropolitan airport, hugging each other in grief. A priest walked among them, trying to comfort them.