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All 49 Bodies Recovered from Crash of Romanian Plane

December 14, 1995

VILLAFRANCA, Italy (AP) _ Authorities said today they have recovered all 49 bodies from a Romanian airliner that crashed into a snow-covered orchard and burst into flames minutes after takeoff.

Paramilitary police at Verona’s Villafranca airport said the dead were 31 Italians, four Serbs, and 14 Romanians, including a crew of eight.

Airport officials said they hoped to recover the flight data and cockpit conversation recorders to aid investigation into the cause of the Banat Air jet crash. The twice-weekly flight primarily serves Italians doing business in Romania following the fall of Communism there.

The Soviet-built Antonov 24, bound for Timisoara, Romania, crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday evening, narrowly missing several farmhouses. Since Wednesday, much of Italy has been gripped by a winter storm, and residents of the crash area reported heavy winds at the time the plane went down.

Romania’s transport minister, Aurel Novac, told the Romanian state news agency, Rompress, that the charter plane exploded three minutes into the flight.

Italian authorities would not confirm there had been explosion.

``If you want to be serious about the cause of the accident, as things are now, you can’t say absolutely anything,″ said Verona Deputy Prosecutor Mario Schinaia.

The plane crashed into a field of young peach trees, about 50 yards from a farmhouse.

Orchard owner Vincenzo Codegato, who was in the farmhouse, said he was the first to make it through the mud to the crash site.

``There was a fire, but there wasn’t a single cry,″ Codegato said, adding he found parts of bodies flung about the field.

Codegato and other residents said the plane sounded as if it were flying just over their houses, and that the usual flight path of takeoffs for the airport six miles outside of Verona doesn’t go over their houses.

Only the snow-covered tail of the plane, sticking up from the snowy field, was visible this morning. The air was heavy with the stench of fuel oil.

A farmer who said he that the sound of the airplane’s engines didn’t sound normal was being questioned by Italian police.

The bodies were laid out in a hangar of a military airport near the commercial airport, and dozens of Italians streamed in to identify the dead.

Hearses rolled down muddy, narrow roads to take away the bodies.

A Romanian television station, Pro-TV, said Banat rented the Antonov 24 from Romavia, a Romanian aviation company.

Banat Air began flying in 1993 and has routes to Verona, Istanbul, Turkey, and Thessaloniki, Greece.

Timisoara, a city of 330,000 residents in western Romania, has traditionally been a place of interest for Italian business. The Italian clothing company Benetton set up its first Romanian shop there shortly after the 1989 uprising that toppled Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

It was the second major crash this year of a Romanian jetliner. On March 31, a Tarom airlines jet bound for Brussels went down about three minutes after taking off from Bucharest’s Otopeni international airport. All 60 people aboard the Airbus A-310 were killed.

An investigation by Belgian officials and the FBI determined the cause of that crash to be mechanical failure.

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