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Argentine Austral Airlines DC-9 Crashes in Uruguay Killing All 75 People Aboard; Pilot Had

October 11, 1997

Argentine Austral Airlines DC-9 Crashes in Uruguay Killing All 75 People Aboard; Pilot Had Been Trying To Dodge Turbulent StormBy DANIEL ZADUNAISKY

NUEVO BERLIN, Uruguay (AP) _ Falling like a fireball from the sky, an Argentine airliner crashed and exploded in Uruguay, killing all 75 people aboard, authorities and witnesses said Saturday. The pilot had been trying to dodge a turbulent storm.

The Austral airlines DC-9 all but disintegrated when it slammed into farmland at 11 p.m. Friday near Nuevo Berlin, in eastern Uruguay. It was the deadliest crash ever involving an Argentine airliner.

``There were no survivors,″ said Juan Manuel Vazquez, secretary-general of the Argentine air force. ``The plane hit the ground with a heavy impact and is scattered over a very wide area.″

The crash left a crater 25 feet deep and 30 feet wide. The surrounding area was strewn with debris from the aircraft and unrecognizable human remains _ mere bits of bones and flesh.

Seventy passengers and five crew members were flying from the northern Argentine city of Posadas to Buenos Aires, said Santiago Garcia, commercial manager of Austral.

Officials said most of the victims were Argentine but there were a few Uruguayans and one Swiss. Three infants were among the dead.

Storms bearing strong winds, rain, hail and lightning were raging at the time of the crash, and the ``extremely difficult weather″ may have been to blame, Vazquez said.

Lt. Col. Walter Garcia, an Uruguayan civil aviation official, told The Associated Press that the storm ``explains only part″ of the accident, but did not elaborate. He said the flight data recorders must be found to help determine the exact cause.

The crew had last made contact with the Buenos Aires airport about 40 minutes before the crash and reported changing course to avoid heavy rain and hail, air force spokesman Jorge Carnevalini said.

A Uruguayan air force official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the plane was in an area of heavy turbulence when it crashed.

Argentine and Uruguayan rescue teams rushed to the site, an area of marshes and hills about 140 miles north of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

Witnesses said the plane was already in flames when it hit the ground and exploded.

Roberto Lemos, who was driving to the nearby town of Fray Bentos, said he saw what he thought was a flash of lightning. ``Afterward, I realized it had been a plane.″

Ingrid Bidegain de Bastos, who lives on a nearby farm, described seeing a ``red ball that fell and exploded on hitting the ground.″

More than 100 relatives of the victims gathered at the Buenos Aires metropolitan airport Saturday morning. They hugged each other as a Catholic priest tried to comfort them.

Officials said the 28-year-old plane had made about 54,000 flights up until June.

In Argentine airlines’ worst previous crash, another Austral plane crashed near Argentina’s southern Andean resort of San Carlos de Bariloche in November 1977, killing 74 people.

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