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Pilots’ Union Says Television Tower Not on Aviation Maps

February 21, 1985

BILBAO, Spain (AP) _ The head of a pilots’ union said Wednesday the airline’s maps do not show the TV tower struck by an Iberia jet before it crashed in flames, killing all 148 people on board.

Tuesday’s crash was the third in Spain in the last 14 months and raised new questions about Spain’s commericial aviation industry.

Manuel Lopez, head of the Union of Spanish Commercial Airline Pilots, said in Madrid that neither the 178-foot tower nor the 3,366-foot Oiz hill on which it stood appear on 1981 approach maps used by Iberia pilots flying to Bilbao in northern Spain’s Basque country.

″Something is not functioning″ in the aviation industry, Lopez said.

The other recent airline accidents, which killed 274 people, involved a Colombian jet, and the collision of an Iberia jet and a plane owned by Aviaco, a Spanish domestic carrier.

The president of Iberia, Carlos Espinosa de los Monteros, confirmed that the hill and tower do not appear on approach maps, but said nothing further in response to Lopez’s statement.

Espinosa said officials had not determined the cause of Tuesday’s crash, but he said the Boeing 727 was 900 feet below normal altitude when it hit the tower and then slammed into the hill, bursting into flames.

The television tower, built in 1982 and owned by a local television system, is one of two on the hilltop. The other tower, of equal height, was built in 1975 and is used to relay television programs to the Bilbao area.

Queen Sofia presided at a funeral Wednesday evening for all the victims of the crash. The head of the autonomous Basque government and Bolivia’s ambassador to Spain also joined victims’ relatives at the service in Our Lady of Begona Basilica in Bilbao. Bolivia’s labor minister was among the victims.

Pope John Paul II sent a telegram of sympathy to the bishop of Bilbao.

Iberia reserved a plan to take relatives of the victims back to Madrid after the service.

Civil defense spokesman Jose Luis Garcedo said the remains of 80 percent of the victims had been removed from the pine-covered hillside, about 18 miles from Bilbao. Rescue parties continued their search, hampered by heavy fog and freezing temperatures.

Authorities said 75 of the bodies had been identified. A Red Cross official who gave only his last name, Gurruchaga, said many of the charred remains probably were beyond identification. ″If it were in my hands, I’d ask relatives of the victims not to go through the identifying procedure,″ he said.

Two American passengers were reported on Flight 610, traveling the 200 miles from Madrid to Bilbao. U.S. Embassy sources in Madrid identified the Americans as Tim Markey and John Steigerwald, but did not provide names of their hometowns.

The pilots’ union and the airline have long been at odds over how the airline is operated. Last June the union staged a 36-day strike to protest Iberia’s financial reorganization plans. The airline lost $197 million between October 1982 and October 1983.

The airline and the pilots’ union said the pilot of the Boeing 727, Jose Luis Patino, was one of six Iberia pilots fired during the strike. Iberia charged that Patino deliberately delayed takeoff of a flight he was required to make under a law providing for minimum public services during strikes.

Labor courts later ruled the pilots should be reinstated. Iberia said Patino had flown the Madrid-to-Bilbao route more than 100 times, and the union described him as a veteran pilot.

Pilots had been seeking a 5.5 percent wage increase, the hiring of 34 new pilots, and a cut in their flying time. They said they worked longer hours than their colleagues in other European countries.

However, the airline, which is owned by a government holding company, said it could not afford to hire the new pilots because it was under orders from the Industry Ministry to cut expenses.

Spanish newspapers said the strike was a political confrontation between pilots, many of whom trained in the air force under fascist dictator Francisco Franco, and the Socialist government.

Civil aviation officials in Bilbao, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said the black box, or voice recorder, from the aircraft had been sent to Madrid to help determine the cause of the crash. The orange box, or flight data recorder, will be sent to the United States to be examined by technicians, they said.

″We have no hypotheses yet, we have no idea how the crash occurred,″ including why the craft was 900 feet below normal altitude, Espinosa said.

Airline officials dismissed claims that a bomb planted by Basque separatists might have caused the crash. Espinosa said the small amount of evidence collected so far indicated the plane did not explode before plowing into the mountainside.

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