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Boeing 727 Crashes in Colombia

April 21, 1998

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A Boeing 727 chartered by Air France with 53 people aboard crashed into a fog-draped mountain outside the Colombian capital just after takeoff Monday. Rescuers said they found no sign of survivors.

The jet, leased by the Ecuadorean airline TAME, was en route to Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, civil aviation spokesman Martin Gonzalez said. It slammed into a steep hillside three minutes after takeoff at 4:47 p.m. (2147 GMT).

``I saw the plane crash into the top of the mountain and flip over. A few seconds later it blew up, and our windows shook from the shock wave,″ Yesid Gonzalez told the Radionet network. Gonzalez, who witnessed the crash from his office window, said the jet broke into three large pieces.

An Air France spokesman, Jose Maria Robayo, told The Associated Press that the plane carried 43 passengers and a crew of 10. Most of those aboard Flight 422 were French and Ecuadorean citizens who had arrived on an earlier flight from Paris, he said. Other Europeans had been aboard but Robayo did not know their nationalities, he said.

Franco Emilio Erazo, TAME’s representative in Bogota, said at least 37 of the passengers had originated in France. He said the flight was one of three that travel each week from Quito to Bogota and back.

Police on the scene told reporters they had found four bodies so far. Pieces of other bodies, burned clothing and aircraft seats were strewn over the bushy mountainside across an area larger than a football field.

Amid the undergrowth and eucalyptus trees were a woman’s head, purses with cosmetics, baby clothes, wallets, compact disks, French magazines and a child’s miniature football.

A postcard from Paris depicting the Eiffel Tower, written in Spanish and addressed to Quito, lay among the debris.

``There are hands, feet and legs. Most of what we have recovered are very small body parts,″ said a police officer at the scene, Fernando Molino.

Police found the plane’s flight recorder, or black box, and carried it down the mountain in a jeep. Officials called off rescue efforts shortly after dark.

``For the safety of the rescue workers, the police and the Red Cross, it is necessary to suspend any kind of rescue work. We haven’t found a single survivor,″ said an army officer at the scene who identified himself only as Col. Palomino.

The lights of the Bogota airport runway were visible from the crash site, and planes could be seen taking off. The takeoff route from the airport heads straight toward the ridge of mountains bordering the city’s eastern side, and planes typically veer either to the north or south as they gain altitude.

``The plane was flying very low,″ said Sergio Rodriguez, a 15-year-old peasant living near the crash site.

``The plane was making a very strong sound in its engine, a sound that is not normal,″ said Wilson Vargas, a worker at the Colombian Air Force non-commissioned officer’s club on the mountainside.

Pieces of the fuselage up to 2 meters (6 feet) in length were strewn around the bushes of the 3,100-meter (3390-yard) peak, which looms 500 meters (547 yards) above Bogota’s El Dorado Airport.

In 1973, a Colombian passenger jet from the now defunct carrier Aerocondor crashed into the same mountainside, leaving 43 dead. That flight was en route to Cartagena and Curacao.

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