166 Die as L.A.-Bound Jet Crashes on Mexican Peak : U.S. Envoys on Way to Investigate

<i> Times Staff Writers</i>

A Mexicana Airlines Boeing 727, en route to Los Angeles from Mexico City, crashed and burned this morning in the mountains west of the Mexican capital and all 166 people aboard were reported dead.

Mexicana’s flight 940, scheduled to stop at the coastal resorts of Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan before continuing to Los Angeles, crashed in the rugged Sierra Madre of central Mexico 15 minutes after takeoff from Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport.

Three hours after the crash, a Mexican government spokesman said the wreckage of the plane was still in flames and all aboard had died.

By early afternoon, it remained unclear whether any Southern California residents were aboard.


En Route to L.A.

Local officials of the airline said they did not know if any of the passengers on the Mexico City-Puerto Vallarta leg of the flight were bound for Los Angeles, but added that three Mexicana crew members based here were aboard.

Their names and the names of other passengers and crew on the 727 were not immediately available. There were a total of 158 passengers and eight crew members on the three-engined jet, airline officials in Mexico City reported.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said officials did not know if any of the victims were U.S. citizens, but they were reviewing the plane’s passenger list with Mexican authorities.

However, another U.S. Embassy official reported later in the morning that there were 25 “non-Spanish-sounding names” on the passenger manifesto.

Officials from both the embassy and the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara were on their way to the crash site.

Mexico City air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at about 7:15 a.m. PST, and shortly thereafter police helicopters spotted its burning wreckage on a mountainside 9,000 feet above sea level and about 100 miles northwest of Mexico City in the state of Michoacan.

Rescue workers on the ground and in helicopters were making their way to the crash site in rugged country near the municipality of Maravatio.

Officials could offer no immediate explanation for the disaster, but an anonymous source in the Mexico City Airport Commission’s office told the Associated Press that the jetliner was apparently making an emergency descent when it crashed into the mountains. Mexican aviation officials were studying two tapes of radio communications between the Mexicana flight and ground controllers in a search for clues to the crash.

Friends, Relatives Waiting

Airline officials set up a special waiting room at the Mexico City airport to comfort friends and relatives of passengers on Flight 940.

Dozens of anxious people came to the airport. “Where did it crash, please,” asked one tearful young man. “Can we go there? We want to go there any way we can.”

The scene at Los Angeles International Airport, where the flight had been scheduled to arrive at 12:10 p.m., was quieter, and no one appeared to be waiting for passengers from the downed plane.

One woman, near hysterics, was calmed after airline officials told her that her brother was on an earlier plane.

Easter week vacationers scheduled to return here on the flight from Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan were shifted to a substitute plane, scheduled to arrive at LAX in mid-afternoon.

The crash was the first major accident involving a Mexicana flight in 17 years, officials said. In September, 1969, a Mexicana 727, flying to Mexico City from Chicago, crashed just before landing, killing 40.