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Jetliner Crashes in Colombia

April 21, 1998

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A Boeing 727 chartered by Air France with 53 people aboard crashed into a fog-shrouded mountain outside the Colombian capital just after takeoff Monday. Rescuers found no survivors before calling off their search due to darkness.

The jet, leased from the Ecuadorean airline TAME, was en route to Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, civil aviation spokesman Martin Gonzalez said. It slammed into a steep hillside three minutes after takeoff at 4:47 p.m.

Another agency spokesman said the cockpit crew did not report any problems to the control tower prior to the crash.

``I saw the plane crash into the top of the mountain and flip over. A few seconds later it blew up, and our windows shook from the shock wave,″ Yesid Gonzalez told the Radionet network. Gonzalez, who witnessed the impact from his office window, said the jet broke into three large pieces.

The blast could be heard by thousands of Bogota residents.

Air France said the plane, Flight 422, carried 43 passengers and a crew of 10 Ecuadoreans. Thirty-nine of those aboard were French and Ecuadoreans who had arrived from Paris on an earlier Airbus flight. Airline spokesman Jose Maria Robayo said there were other Europeans aboard but that he did not know their nationalities.

Police found the plane’s flight recorder, or black box, and carried it down the mountain in a jeep. Officials called off rescue efforts shortly after dark.

``For the safety of the rescue workers, the police and the Red Cross, it is necessary to suspend any kind of rescue work. We haven’t found a single survivor,″ said an army officer who identified himself only as Col. Palomino.

Police on the scene told reporters they had found four bodies. Pieces of other bodies, burned clothing and aircraft seats were strewn across the bushy mountainside over an area larger than a football field.

Among the undergrowth and eucalyptus trees were a woman’s head, purses with cosmetics, baby clothes, wallets, compact disks, French magazines and a child’s miniature football.

A postcard from Paris depicting the Eiffel Tower, written in Spanish and addressed to Quito, lay amid the debris.

``There are hands, feet and legs. Most of what we have recovered are very small body parts,″ said a police officer at the scene, Fernando Molino.

The lights of Bogota’s El Dorado Airport runway were visible from the crash site, and planes could be seen taking off. The takeoff route from the airport heads straight toward the ridge of mountains bordering the city’s eastern side, and planes typically veer either to the north or south as they gain altitude.

Dionisio Sosa, an air traffic controller at the airport, said the plane was supposed to turn 90 degrees to the south on a heading known as ``Girandot One″ about 2,000 feet after clearing the runway at a beacon known as ``Romeo.″ Instead, it continued straight for about two miles until it struck the mountain.

Sosa said controllers were unable to see the plane on radar as it departed. They radioed the plane, but the only response from the aircraft was a crew member giving the plane’s identification as ``Air France 422.″

The jet was climbing at about 170 miles per hour, said Col. Julio Alberto Gonzalez, deputy director of the civil aviation authority. He refused to speculate on the cause of the crash and noted that the plane had arrived in Bogota an hour early from Quito.

``The plane was flying very low,″ said Sergio Rodriguez, a 15-year-old peasant living near the crash site.

``The plane was making a very strong sound in its engine, a sound that is not normal,″ said Wilson Vargas, a worker at the Colombian Air Force non-commissioned officers’ club on the mountainside.

Pieces of the fuselage up to 6 feet in length were strewn around the bushes of the 3,390-yard peak, which looms 547 yards above Bogota’s airport.

Franco Emilio Erazo, TAME’s representative in Bogota, said the flight was one of three that travel each week from Quito to Bogota and back.

In 1973, a Colombian passenger jet from the now defunct carrier Aerocondor crashed into the same mountainside, leaving 43 dead. That flight was en route to Cartagena and Curacao.

In December 1995, an American Airlines Boeing 757 struck a mountainside in Colombia on approach to the Cali airport, killing all but four of the 163 people aboard.

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