Plane Crashes in Ocean, Kills 43; Pilot Survives
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ A navy plane carrying Peru’s top soccer team crashed into the ocean off a Lima beach and only one of the 43 people aboard was known to have survived, the navy said Wednesday.
A spokesman said the pilot, 1st Lt. Edilberto Villar, escaped when the Fokker F-27 crashed and split apart Tuesday night. He floated in choppy seas for hours with such survival techniques as drawing air into his clothes to make them buoyant, he said. Villar is being treated at a navy hospital for shock and minor injuries.
Rescuers had found 12 bodies since the plane crashed after having trouble with its landing gear and circling the Lima airport for two hours, the spokesman said.
On the twin-turboprop F-27, owned by the navy and chartered by the Alianza Lima professional soccer team, were coach Marcos Calderon and 16 players, eight male cheerleaders, 12 team employees and six crew members, according to a navy statement. The only woman aboard was a stewardess.
The navy spokesman reported earlier that 44 people were on the plane, including seven crew members, but corrected the figures.
Frogmen using sonar tried to locate the fuselage and nose of the aircraft, which sank in about 120 feet of water and was believed to contain most of the bodies. The tail section was found floating. On Wednesday night, the search was postponed until Thursday because of darkness and bad weather.
The F-27, which can carry 50 passengers, was returning to the capital from a game in Pucallpa, a jungle city 355 miles northeast. Alianza had defeated Deportiva Pucallpa 1-0 earlier Tuesday to gain first place in Peru’s soccer league.
″None of the players stayed in Pucallpa. All of them were on the plane,″ club President Agustin Merino told a news conference Wednesday.
Freddy Pimentel, director of the airport control tower, said the plane was to have landed at 8:10 p.m. Tuesday. The navy said it was declared in an emergency five minutes later because of problems with its landing gear.
Channel 5 television, Peru’s most authoritative news station, said the plane lost contact with the control tower at 10:30 p.m. after making three passes over the airport.
The navy reported the crash Wednesday morning, but has not said exactly when it occurred or given a specific cause.
″The plane flew around the airport trying to land but the landing gear would not come down,″ said the spokesman, a navy press officer who would not let his name be used.
Marco Aurelio Gonzalez, manager of the state-run airport administration company Corpac, said the indicator lights on the plane’s control panel were not working and the pilot could not tell whether the landing gear was in place.
He said in an interview on Radio Programas that the F-27 made a low pass over the airport and the tower informed the pilot his gear was in place.
″He said he was going to swing around to land and then it (the plane) was lost,″ Gonzalez said.
It crashed into the Pacific about a mile off Ventanilla beach, 15 miles from downtown Lima.
Military helicopters spotted the craft shortly after dawn, the spokesman said.
Alianza Lima, one of Peru’s top teams of the decade, was eliminated earlier this year in the first round of the Copa de Libertadores, South America’s most important tournament.
″I spoke to the team for about an hour just after their last game,″ said their former coach, Valdir Pereira, in Brazil. ″They were so excited to be in first place. They asked me to come and watch their next game. They were like sons to me ... It’s awful. I can hardly believe what has happened.″
In the last major air accident in Peru, an air force transport plane crashed into the jungle in stormy weather in June, killing all 49 people aboard.