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Ecuador Plane Disappears in Colombia

January 29, 2002

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QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ An Ecuadorean jetliner carrying 92 people, including seven children, disappeared in the fogbound Andes Mountains along the Colombia-Ecuador border on Monday, the airline said.

TAME airlines spokeswoman Toa Quirola initially said the plane crashed in Colombian territory near Ipiales, just across the border from Tulcan. But the airline said later that it wasn’t sure what had happened to the plane.

``As of now there is no official information that confirms the situation of the plane and its 92 passengers,″ an airline statement said.

TAME’s airport chief Jorge Godrillo said after nightfall that three planes and one helicopter had combed the area near Ipiales but could not find a crash site. Search efforts had been suspended until Tuesday morning, he said.

The TAME airline Boeing 727-100 from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, was headed to the Ecuadorean border city of Tulcan, 110 miles to the northeast. Its flight plan took it over the Colombian city of Ipiales, the airline said.

The mayor’s office of Ipiales said the city was foggy at the time the plane disappeared.

Martin Gonzalez, spokesman for Colombia’s Civil Aviation authority, told The Associated Press that authorities were trying to confirm reports that farmers near the Colombian town of Cumbal, 12 miles northwest of Ipiales, heard a big explosion that could have been a crash.

The town is near the plane’s approach path to Tulcan, said Juan Carlos Velez, director of Colombia’s Civil Aviation authority. Cumbal lies near two volcanic Andean mountains, 15,721-foot Nevado de Cumbal and 15,668-foot Chiles.

``Because of this, we calculate that the plane, if it has ... crashed, could be on the volcanos,″ Velez told reporters in Bogota.

A Colombian farmer reported hearing a low-flying plane through the fog and what sounded like a crash when he was four hours by horseback from Cumbal.

``We felt as though it was flying low, but we couldn’t see it because the sky was full of clouds,″ Javier Escruceria told local radio. ``It seemed like it had gone down behind the mountain.″

The jetliner, which was carrying 83 passengers, including seven children, and nine crew members, lost radio contact at 10:23 a.m., Ecuador’s Civil Aviation department said.

Relatives of passengers gathered at the airport in Cali, Colombia, the flight’s final destination, Monday anxiously awaiting word of their fate.

``Everyone tells us something different ... but no one knows anything,″ said Adriana Cano. Her sister, Elizabeth Cano, was believed aboard the flight, along with her husband Jorge Upegui.

It was the second incident this month in the border region.

A plane from Ecuador’s state-owned oil company with 26 people on board crashed in Colombian territory Jan. 17 while heading from Quito to Lago Agrio, an oil outpost in the Amazon jungle 110 miles northeast of the capital.

Six days later, searchers found the wreckage of the twin-engine propeller plane on a jungle-covered hillside a few miles across the border. All 21 passengers and five crew members on board died.

Tulcan is about 30 miles northwest of where the oil company plane crashed.

A spokeswoman for the Colombian air force, Maj. Angela Rodriguez, said Colombian authorities were ruling out a possible guerrilla attack on the TAME airliner. She said Colombian air force planes were being mobilized for the search.

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