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Missing Colombia Plane Found Intact

April 12, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ An Avianca plane carrying 46 people disappeared Monday on a flight over the Andes mountains. The aircraft was spotted hours later sitting on a remote airstrip, the airline said.

It was not immediately known why the twin-engine Fokker-50 turboprop landed near Simiti, 80 miles from the city of Bucaramanga. The plane left Bucaramanga this morning en route to Bogota.

Avianca spokeswoman Flavia Ranzini confirmed the sighting by a search helicopter and said the plane was intact.

The air force commander, Gen. Fabio Velasco, said people in uniform had surrounded the plane. It was not known whether they were leftist rebels, who have a strong presence in the Simiti area.

It was unclear whether the plane landed due to mechanical problems or whether it was hijacked, as Velasco speculated.

``Apparently, the plane landed in Simiti. Whether it was hijacked is very difficult to say,″ said Ernesto Huertas, director of the civil aviation authority.

Flight 9463 left Bucaramanga in Colombia’s northeast at 10:32 a.m. with 41 passengers and five crew members. The flight’s last radio communication occurred two minutes after its departure, officials said.

The plane did not report any problems and officials said weather conditions were excellent.

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