Plane Carrying Pilgrims to See Pope Crashes, Killing at Least 27
TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico (AP) _ A plane carrying pilgrims to see Pope John Paul II crashed Thursday and killed at least 27 of the 38 people on board, including a bishop and some government officials, authorities said.
The crash was near the military airport of the southeastern city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, where the pope is to visit Friday.
The Rev. Jorge Valenti, secretary to the bishop of Tapachula, Monsignor Luis Miguel Canton Marin, said the bishop died in the crash.
The Dutch-made, propeller-driven F-27 Fokker crashed at about 8:55 a.m., just under two miles from the airport runway, said Miguel Angel Guadarrama, manager of the airline Aviacion de Chiapas, S.A.
He said 38 people were aboard, including the crew. One of the 12 initial survivors later died of injuries, a Red Cross worker said.
″Many of the passengers, in fact most of them, were government officials,″ Guadarrama said.
The pope, who earlier flew to the northern city of Chihuahua on Thursday, isolated himself en route to his next stop, Monterrey, to pray for the victims.
″We pray that God will give eternal rest to the dead and for the recovery of the wounded and we pray that God will console the habitants of Tapachula so they keep the faith,″ he said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The weather appeared to be clear on television footage from the scene, but the area is known for fog.
The badly charred wreck lay scattered in a field, its propellers twisted. Soldiers surrounded it, keeping back onlookers. Despite the security, some looting of luggage occurred.
″Just imagine the scene, it was quite awful,″ Red Cross volunteer Guillermo Diaz Gorodillo said in a telephone interview. ″Luckily, the plane crashed in an open field, surrounded by private homes so that many people rushed out to help the survivors.″
Diaz Gordillo said the plane was in flames when he and about 18 other Red Cross volunteers reached the crash site. ″Five of them were unscathed, including a mother and her newborn baby. The others were badly injured, and one just died here at the Red Cross,″ he said.
The plane was on a scheduled run from Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala. Officials said many of the government people were coming for John Paul’s visit to Tuxtla Gutierrez, capital of Chiapas state.
Aviacion de Chiapas, or Avicsa, is a regional commercial airline that operates in southeastern Mexico and uses the military base.
The plane can carry up to 44 passengers and a crew of four.