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Colombian Forensic Tests Find Alcohol in Remains of Pilot

January 4, 1996

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ Alcohol found in the remains of the American Airlines jet pilot who crashed in Colombia may have been a byproduct of decomposition and does not mean he was drinking, an airline official said.

The airline is awaiting confirmation of the early Colombian tests on pilot Nicholas Tafuri, one of 160 people killed in the Dec. 20 crash. The Federal Aviation Administration notified the Fort Worth-based airline Wednesday about the results.

Bob Baker, the airline’s executive vice president of operations, said further tests were needed to determine whether the alcohol in the pilot’s remains was the result of drinking or ``the natural chemical processes following death by blunt trauma injury.″

``Obviously, we would be shocked if the tests confirm the use of alcohol by one of our pilots during a duty period,″ Baker said.

The amount of alcohol found in the body was not immediately available.

In the United States, the maximum blood-alcohol content allowed for commercial pilots is .04 percent, compared with .10 for drivers in most states. Federal regulations require that cockpit crews refrain from alcohol for at least eight hours before flight time.

The FAA intends to retest the samples in the United States as soon as arrangements with Colombian officials can be made, Baker said. However, Sandra Allen, an FAA spokeswoman in Washington, said any retesting would be done by Colombian officials with U.S. officials as observers.

Allen also said she could not respond to ``speculation″ that alcohol could have been a byproduct of decomposition. She said the agency had been doing scientific research along those lines but that she did not know the status of it.

Some reports said the remains of Tafuri, 57, a pilot with American Airlines since 1969, were not recovered until three days after the Boeing 757 crashed into a mountain near Cali, Colombia. Four people and a dog survived the crash.

Meanwhile, a lawyer seeking $1 billion for the deaths of a couple and injuries to their daughter said Wednesday he will prove that the parents suffered a slow death.

One lawsuit asks for $500 million for the deaths of Benjamin and Mercedes Ramirez of Kansas City, Mo. Another seeks $500 million for injuries to Mercedes Liliana Ramirez, their 21-year-old daughter. The three were on their way to visit relatives.

Howard E. Shafran, the attorney who filed both suits, said lawsuits filed across the country would be consolidated in one city for a trial on liability.

``These people did not die of the injuries sustained in the crash. They died of hypothermia. These people had a slow, horrible, agonizing death,″ he said.

Also Wednesday, the Miami Herald quoted two veteran American Airlines pilots as saying that an air traffic controller who didn’t know the location of the jet misled the crew before the crash. The pilots criticized an earlier report by Colombian officials that blamed pilot error for the disaster.

But Carlos Rubio, head of civil aviation in Cali, dismissed the pilots’ comments as ``speculation.″ He said an investigation in Washington of the ``black box″ flight recorders will determine the cause.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. The cause is not expected to be known for months.

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