148 Die as Spanish Jet Crashes on Mountain

United Press International

A Spanish jetliner clipped a mountaintop television tower and crashed in a huge burst of flame Tuesday, killing all 148 people aboard in the third fatal airliner crash in Spain in less than 15 months.

Among the dead were Bolivia's labor minister, a former Spanish foreign minister and one American.

The Iberia Airlines Boeing 727, en route from Madrid to the northern city of Bilbao, had descended to 3,000 feet, preparing to land at Bilbao's Sondica airport 18 miles away, when it hit the region's main TV transmitting tower atop 3,078-foot Mt. Oiz, civil aviation authorities said.

Flight 610 at first clipped trees and then slammed into the mountainside, bursting into flames on impact in the Basque region, officials said.

Police, soldiers and guardsmen were able to reach the crash site, in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, only by tractors and helicopters.

The tower lost contact with the jet five minutes before the crash occurred at 9:20 a.m.

'All Bodies Charred'

"Some might have survived the impact but none could have escaped the explosion alive. All the bodies are charred," said the mayor of Marquina, a village near the crash site.

Among those killed were Bolivian Labor Minister Gonzalo Guzman Eguez and Gregorio Lopez Bravo, Spanish foreign minister under the late dictator Francisco Franco, civil aviation authorities said.

A spokeswoman for Iberia in New York identified an American known to have been killed in the crash as John Steigerwald, 28, an employee of General Electric Co., whose parents are believed to live in Maryland.

Unofficial reports from Iberia and from embassies said the victims also included two other Americans, two Britons, one Swiss, one Dutch and three Bolivian aides of Guzman.

Rescue workers recovered both "black box" recorders from the site and officials said they would likely help explain the cause of the crash. All commercial planes carry two black boxes, actually painted orange for visibility. One records instrument readings and the other sounds in the cockpit.

Iberia President Carlos Espinosa de los Montes said the jet was flying at "300 meters (984 feet) below its normal altitude" when it nicked the television tower, but neither he nor the Bilbao control tower could explain why.

Officials said clouds did not impair visibility, although fog later blanketed the hillside and hampered rescue work over the two-mile area where the blackened wreckage was scattered.

A flight of the same plane was delayed by 30 minutes Monday by a bomb threat, but Espinosa said the crash of the plane did not involve a bomb. He rejected a claim by a telephone caller that the crash was caused by a bomb set by the Basque separatist group ETA.

"There was no sign of an explosion previous to the crash, so we have entirely rejected the possibility of a terrorist attack," Espinosa said.

Espinosa said the aircraft had been in perfect condition and complied with all security measures. He said pilot Jose Luis Patino had logged 13,400 hours of flight.

Spain has been plagued by three fatal air crashes in less than 15 months.

On Nov. 27, 1983, a Colombian Avianca Boeing 747 flying from Frankfurt to Bogota caught fire and crashed near the Madrid airport, killing 181 of 192 people aboard.

On Dec. 7, 1983, an Iberia Boeing 727 and a DC-9 belonging to a domestic carrier, Aviaco, collided on a runway at the Madrid airport, killing all 42 people aboard the Douglas DC-9 and 51 aboard the Iberia jet.

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