Ocean Search Resumes for Plane Crash Victims
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Navy teams scanned the ocean floor with metal detectors and sonar Thursday for wreckage from a plane crash that killed Peru’s No. 1 soccer team and plunged the nation into mourning.
The only known survivor of Tuesday’s crash was the pilot, 1st Lt. Edilberto Villar, who inflated his clothing and spent 11 hours floating in choppy coastal waters. He was rescued early Wednesday.
A navy spokesman said the other 42 people aboard, including the Alianza Lima soccer team, were believed killed in the crash.
Villar, 29, found a hole in the fuselage and swam to the surface along with soccer player Alfredo Tomasini, who had a broken leg and other injuries, the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The pilot kept himself and Tomasini afloat throughout the night, but the two were separated in the rough seas about dawn and Tomasini drowned, the spokesman said.
He denied reports the two used a seat cushion to stay afloat but said Villar constructed a crude life preserver out of pieces of clothing in which he trapped air.
The navy suspended its search shortly after nightfall and a spokesman said recovery operations would resume Friday morning. No more bodies were recovered Thursday and navy teams could not find the plane’s nose and fuselage, where most passengers were believed to be, said the spokeman.
The mournful mood that swept Peru was reflected in newspaper headlines Thursday: ″Peru Cries For Alianza Lima,″ said the daily Ojo.
Professional soccer has been one of the few bright spots in a nation beset by chronic economic woes and a growing lefist insurgency.
″This air accident is the gravest in Peruvian sports history and it has awakened national and international sympathy,″ Education Minister Mercedes Cabanillas said Thursday.
The team’s home stadium near downtown Lima was draped Thursday in Peruvian and Alianza flags and purple to show mourning. Thousands held a vigil there Wednesday night.
Villar was reported in stable condition Thursday after being treated for shock and bruises at the Naval Hospital of Peru. His friends were barred from his hospital room, as were investigators and reporters.
The twin-engine navy plane crashed about a mile off the coast of Lima while en route to the capital from the jungle city of Pucallpa, about 350 miles away.
The F-27 Fokker was unable to land because of landing equipment problems, said a navy press officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
After the pilot made several trial passes over the runway at Lima’s airport, the control tower said the landing gear was in place.
″He said he was going to come around again and land, but it (the plane) was lost,″ said Marco Aurelio Gonzalez, an airport spokesman.
Searchers in helicopters spotted parts of the craft early Wednesday. A navy spokesman said the plane split in two, with the tail floating and the fuselage and nose submerged in 120 feet of water.
Navy helicopters, patrol boats, and frogmen resumed the search early Thursday, using sonar and metal detectors to try to find the plane’s middle section.
The navy said 12 bodies had been recovered.
The plane, chartered by the Alianza Lima team, carried 37 players and people associated with the team, five navy crewmembers, and a civilian flight attendent.
Sports writers had favored Alianza Lima to win a berth as one of Peru’s entries in South America’s soccer championship.
″The city and entire nation feel the pain over the irreparable loss of the valient young men of the Alianza team,″ said Lima’s mayor, Jorge Castillo.
The team’s president, Agustin Merino, said it was unlikely the organization could continue playing this year. He said all but a handful of the regular players were aboard the plane.
The Professional Soccer Association of Peru indefinitely suspended league tournament games Wednesday.