Plane Crashes Near Bucharest Airport, 59 Dead
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ A Romanian airliner crashed in a sleet storm minutes after taking off from Bucharest’s airport today. All 59 people on board were killed, including three Americans.
The plane, an Airbus A310 flown by Tarom airlines, was headed for Brussels, Belgium. It had just left Otopeni airport when it crashed near the village of Balotesti, 13 miles north of Bucharest.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. One witness, who would not give his name, said the plane exploded before crashing. Airline and government officials refused to comment on that report.
Tarom also said it received an anonymous bomb threat on a plane flying the same route earlier this month. No bomb was found on that plane.
There were no survivors among the 49 passengers and 10 crew members aboard, the airline said.
Tarom spokeswoman Andrea Mihailescu said 32 Belgians _ including two employees of the Belgian Embassy in Bucharest _ were among the passengers killed, as well as three Americans, three Spanish, one Dutch, one French and nine Romanians.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Chris Fitzgerald said he could not identify the Americans pending notification of next of kin.
However, in Columbia, S.C., a spokeswoman for Columbia International University said a professor and his wife were among the dead.
The Rev. Norman Hoyt, and his wife, Virginia, both 67, were headed home after three weeks of missionary work, spokeswoman Sherry Brown said today.
Hoyt was assistant dean of the bible college, Brown said. His wife worked in the university’s records department and also for the Columbia Biblical Seminary, the university’s graduate seminary.
At the crash site, a few hundred yards from Balotesti’s small train station, the earth was charred black around a large crater. The plane was broken apart, its nose buried deep in the ground. Body parts and blood were strewn across the frozen ground, along with shards of twisted metal.
Romanian soldiers carried body parts and personal belongings from the scene on covered stretchers. Hours after the crash, police were still combing through the debris, carrying away evidence in clear plastic garbage bags as a light snow fell.
The largest chunk of singed wreckage that could be seen measured only six feet, hinting at a possible explosion.
``Until the moment of the crash, three minutes after takeoff, the plane was going very smoothly,″ said Dan Andrei of civil aviation at Otopeni.
Sleet was falling amid gusting winds at the time of the crash, but Andrei said the weather caused no major problems for other planes that took off this morning.
Villagers said the crash felt like an earthquake.
``It felt like the earth moved, like someone tried to pull the windows from their frames,″ said Anca Toader, who has a small house behind the train station.
Viorel Ciocan, 24, said he heard the crash while waiting for a bus nearly a mile away.
Tarom, meanwhile, said it received an anonymous bomb threat earlier this month.
A Tarom flight to Brussels was forced to make an emergency landing at Timisoara in western Romania on March 15, but nothing was found aboard the Boeing 737 airliner which flew on to Belgium, said spokeswoman Veronica Sabau.
Tarom began using the A310, a wide-body twin-engine jetliner, in April 1994, according to a statement from Airbus Industrie in Paris. The plane began flying in 1987, logging more than 31,000 flight hours on some 6,220 flights before being sold to Tarom, the statement said. It did not name the prior owner.
Airbus Industrie said it was sending a team to help the investigation.