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Teams Arrive at Peru Crash Site

May 7, 1998

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Medical teams, delayed more than a day by heavy rain, arrived Thursday at a remote site in Peru’s Amazon jungle where an Occidental Petroleum charter plane crashed with 87 people on board.

Rescuers searching through swamp and dense foliage have found 13 survivors and 50 bodies from Tuesday’s crash three miles short of the Andoas oil camp, near the Ecuadorean border.

The survivors, three of them critically injured, had to be carried on stretchers Wednesday in pouring rain to a medical post in Andoas, 625 miles north of Lima, because the weather prevented their evacuation by helicopter.

With the official death toll at 74 on Thursday, authorities said there was little hope of finding more survivors among the 24 people still unaccounted for.

Survivors were airlifted to Lima on Thursday afternoon and taken to an air force hospital under tight security. No reporters were allowed to talk to them.

The lone American aboard the plane, engineer Harold Whitehead, was not among those rescued, Occidental officials said. Whitehead worked for the Peruvian engineering company Grana y Montero, and his family lives in the Amazon river port of Iquitos.

Occidental chartered the Boeing 737 from the Peruvian air force to fly the oil workers to Andoas from Iquitos. The flight also carried a crew of eight, and three flight attendants were among the survivors, the oil company said.

The plane slammed into the jungle and slid on its belly through trees, leaving a deep trench, before reaching a swamp and being consumed by flames, said Jose Diaz, Occidental’s representative in Iquitos. Bodies were strewn over more than a mile.

Desperate relatives gathered in Iquitos on Thursday for word of the missing.

``We don’t know what happened to my father. All they tell us is that he must be dead,″ said Sandra Toro Ruiz, surrounded by dozens of sobbing relatives and children.

Her father, Antero Toro Rivera, was a mechanic carrying spare parts to the oil camp for contractor Plus Petrol. He was the family’s sole income earner. Toro Rivera’s brother-in-law, Juan Miguel Ruiz, survived the crash with only bruises.

The cause of the accident has not been determined, but witnesses were quoted in local newspapers as saying the pilot circled the air strip and was approaching from a different direction in an effort to avoid oil storage tanks sitting on the runway.

Occidental officials have said a light rain was falling at the time of the crash, but witnesses in Andoas told reporters heavy rain made visibility poor.

Occidental has pumped oil fields around Andoas for 26 years and has a contract with Peru’s air force to fly its workers in and out, company officials said.

It was the second Peruvian air force plane accident in northern Peru in 40 days. On March 29, a Russian-made Antonov military transport plane carrying 61 people crashed outside the northwest city of Piura, killing 22 people and injuring 40. That accident was attributed to engine failure.

Update hourly