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17 Die in Libya Plane Crash

January 14, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ A Swiss plane carrying oil workers crashed off the Mediterranean coast of Libya, killing at least 17 people, and investigators searched for five others still missing today.

Nineteen people survived Thursday’s crash of the twin-engined plane carrying 41 people, Swiss and British officials said today.

Rescue workers have recovered 17 bodies, the Swiss air accident investigation bureau said in a statement released in Bern.

The bureau said rescuers were looking for three Libyans, two Britons and one Filipino. But hours later a British Foreign Office spokesman said on condition of anonymity that one of the missing Britons had been found and was recovering in hospital.

Swiss officials also said salvage workers were preparing to recover the wreckage of the plane, which is resting in 165 feet of water. They gave no indication how long the operation might take.

The plane, a Shorts 360-300 manufactured in Northern Ireland, plunged into the sea about six miles from an oil refinery at Marsa el-Brega, located about 280 miles east of the capital, Tripoli.

Libyan television, monitored in Cairo, reported the plane was flying from Tripoli to the oil refinery when its engines had a ``technical fault″ at a height of 2,000 feet.

``The plane hit the water just off the Libyan coast and sank,″ said Hugo Schittenhelm of the Swiss Transportation Ministry. The plane’s wreckage lay 165 feet underwater, Swiss investigators said.

Aside from three crew members, all 38 passengers on the Swiss-owned Shorts aircraft were employees of a Libyan oil company, said Franz Fassbind, chairman of the Zurich-based Avisto AG air services company, which owns the plane. Libyan media identified the company as the state-run oil firm Sirte.

Fassbind has arrived in Tripoli to take part in the investigation, and a Swiss aviation expert is on his way. Two British experts are also headed to Libya. Swiss and Libyan officials are still discussing which country’s authorities will head the investigation into the crash, the Swiss bureau said.

The wife of a British survivor, Olive Bonner, said she had spoken on the telephone to her husband Stewart, who is recovering in a Libyan hospital with broken bones.

``I asked him how did he get out of the plane, but he just said he really didn’t want to talk about it. He just said `I’m alive’,″ she said.

Noel Guckian, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Tripoli, told Britain’s Press Association he had spoken to one British survivor. He said the survivor, whom he didn’t identify, was ``in shock, both from the crash and the fact that a number of his colleagues have died.″

The Swiss bureau said that among the survivors there were seven Britons, two Indians and 10 Libyans _ including the pilot and co-pilot.

The dead included five British citizens, three Libyans, two Canadians, two Croats, two Filipinos, one Tunisian, one Pakistani and one Indian, the Swiss bureau said.

About 2,000 Britons work in Libyan’s oil industry, with many based at the massive petrochemical center in Marsa el-Brega.

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