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U.S. Air Force plane crashes and burns in Honduras; three killed

April 1, 1997

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A U.S. Air Force cargo plane overshot a runway, crashed into a busy street and burst into flames Tuesday, killing three of those aboard.

After touching down on the runway of Tocontin International Airport in the Honduran capital, the plane rose into the air again.

But it dropped down again, went off the end of the runway and slid 200 yards and into the road, said Col. Fernando Soto, chief of the government civil aeronautics office at the airport.

The plane caught fire as it came to a stop on a major artery often crowded with cars and pedestrians and lined with offices, stores and fast-food restaurants. It wound up about 100 yards from two gasoline stations.

``I had just gotten off of a bus when I saw the plane was coming right at me,″ said Luis Armando Montoya. ``I ran desperately for the other side of the street. It is a miracle I am safe, but I am still frightened.″

The spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy, Marti Estell, said three people aboard the C-130 died and all seven others were injured. Their names were withheld pending notification of relatives.

No one on the ground was reported injured.

Soto said it was not clear what caused the crash. The Air Force was investigating.

The plane was part of the 440th Airlift Wing based at General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin and was flying out of Howard Air Force Base in Panama. U.S. officials said it was carrying food and electronic goods for U.S. servicemen based in Honduras.

The United States has at least 800 personnel based at Palmerola air base, 40 miles north of the capital. The three most seriously injured were taken there for treatment, Capt. Jerry Warner said at the base.

Col. Jose LaGuardia, chief of the Tegucigalpa fire department, said the plane spilled more than 4,500 gallons of fuel as it slid from the runway to the street.

Pedro Atala, whose farm equipment dealership was near the crash, said he gave first aid to some of the survivors.

``I carried three of them to my offices and helped them there. Then I called the police and fire department,″ said Atala, whose white shirt was stained with ashes from the fire.

The sliding plane swept away several utility poles, knocking out power to much of Tegucigalpa for at least three hours. Police said the boulevard would be closed for a day to allow investigators to inspect the wreckage.

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