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Rescue Worker Calls Survival of Two in Plane Crash Miraculous

January 4, 1987

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ A French rescue worker said Sunday it was a miracle two passengers survived when a Brazilian Varig jetliner crashed upside down, disintegrated and burned in dense forest.

Capt. P. R. Kohn was one of four French marines winched down from a helicopter to the disaster scene early Saturday after Flight 797 crashed shortly after take-off for Rio de Janeiro. All the 49 other people aboard the Boeing 707 - 37 passengers and 12 crew members - were killed.

French and Ivory Coast soldiers searched Sunday for the aircraft’s ″black box″ flight recorder. The box is vital in investigating the cause of the crash.

A Varig commission arrived in Abidjan to investigate.

Kohn said his group found the two survivors sitting upright near a tree, badly burned but conscious.

″It was a miracle,″ said Kohn. ″We don’t know how they were thrown out of the plane.″

He and members of a 50-man French rescue team sent later by road spent the night at the crash site.

The Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960 but maintains close relations with Paris.

Abidjan’s Cocody Hospital, where both survivors were being treated, declined comment on their condition other than to say they were ″still alive.″

One survivor is Abidjan University Professor Yessoh Neuba, who was filmed by a television news crew as he lay on a stretcher awaiting evacuation from the scene. ″It’s a shame,″ he told the reporters.

There was still some confusion Sunday regarding the identity of the second survivor. The man has been variously described as a Briton and as a Lebanese.

The plane’s pilot had reported ″problems,″ then an engine fire and said he would circle the airport to dump fuel before making an emergency landing. But the Boeing crashed in thick forest about 12 miles outside this capital, near the village of Grand Alepe.

Wreckage and debris lay scattered over an area 400 to 500 yards wide in the lush vegetation. Trees were felled by the plane’s impact.

Kohn said it took more than 10 hours to get the survivors out of the forest and to the hospital. He said the French military surgeon who treated them at the scene had said he doubted they would survive the trip to Abidjan.

Kohn said the plane crashed upside down and many victims were buried by the impact. Only the tail section remained intact, and the survivors had been sitting in the rear of the plane, he said.

He said it took rescuers who arrived by road two hours to cut through the thick growth to reach the crash site after wading through knee-deep mud.

Troops sealed off the crash area Sunday, but French and Ivory Coast military personnel could be seen crossing the small La Me river in rubber boats on their way to the site about 300 yards into the forest.

Several vans carried victims’ remains to Abidjan along a dirt road.

Update hourly