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Nine-Year-Old Is Sole Survivor of Fiery Airplane Crash

January 12, 1995

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A 9-year-old girl was alive today, the only known survivor of a midair explosion that sent a Colombian plane crashing into a grassy field. At least 51 other Colombians were believed killed.

Civil Aviation Director Alvaro Raad Gomez said it would be ``premature and irresponsible″ to speculate on whether a bomb caused the Intercontinental Aviation DC-9 to crash Wednesday evening as it approached the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena.

However, he said the pilot of another plane saw an explosion rip through the DC-9 as it flew at an altitude of about 14,000 feet.

``The girl seems to be the only survivor,″ said Raad Gomez. ``She said she fell out of the plane when it broke up and fell into a swamp.″

A witness on the ground said the explosion broke the plane nearly in two. The pilot appeared to be attempting a crash landing in a nearby swamp, but the plane plunged into a field and exploded, Argemiro Vergara told RCN radio.

``An intense fire started. A girl was thrown clear, about 10 meters (30 feet) away,″ he said. ``The girl didn’t say anything. She was in shock.″

Vergara said the child was hospitalized with a broken arm.

The flight had originated in Bogota, 380 miles south of Cartagena. Everyone on board was Colombian, Raad Gomez said.

The aviation director said 52 people were on board, but Intercontinental said Flight HK3839 carried 53 people. There was no immediate way to reconcile the differing reports.

The plane had been cleared to descend to 8,000 feet to prepare for landing when air traffic controllers lost contact at 7:36 p.m., airline president Alfonso Ramirez said.

In a conversation with the tower minutes before the crash, the pilot gave no indication of an emergency, Ramirez said. The plane went down about 10 miles from Cartegena.

Wednesday’s crash was the second time in six years that a Colombian jetliner was destroyed by an midflight explosion.

In November 1989, an Avianca Boeing 727 blew up minutes after takeoff from Bogota, killing all 107 people aboard. Investigators blamed the Medellin cocaine cartel for a bomb that exploded near the plane’s fuel tanks.

Update hourly