A Brazilian jetliner whose pilot reported one engine aflame crashed in a dense rain forest in this West African country shortly after takeoff Saturday, killing 49 of 51 people on board, officials said.
A spokesman for Brazil’s Varig airline said that one American was listed as a passenger on board, and that the two badly burned survivors--one found in the wreckage and another thrown clear of the plane--are from the Ivory Coast and France. Other reports identified the second person as a Brazilian of Lebanese origin.
Varig identified the American only as L. Cleveland, without providing a hometown. A West German couple and a Briton were also reported among the fatalities.
The airline said the flight carried 39 passengers and a Brazilian crew of 12.
Early Morning Flight
The Boeing 707 crashed in the thick tropical forest near Bingerville, northeast of Abidjan, after leaving the capital’s Port Bruet Airport at 1 a.m. on a flight to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Airline spokesmen quoted on Rio de Janeiro radio and television said pilot Julio Cesar Carneiro radioed less than an hour after takeoff that one of four engines had caught fire, and he requested permission to return to Abidjan’s airport for an emergency landing. The plane crashed near a rubber plantation about 10 miles from the airport.
U.S. Embassy personnel flew over the crash site, about 12 miles from the sprawling city limits of Abidjan. They described the scene as “devastating.”
Willy Holmes, an embassy cultural affairs officer, told reporters that officials reported “there were very little traces of the aircraft. The impact was such that the plane exploded. There was nothing there.”
Television film from the area, which was later sealed off by soldiers, showed French military and Ivory Coast rescue workers searching through dense undergrowth and felled trees for bodies and debris from Flight 797. The crash touched off brush fires.
Soldiers who sealed off the area said the jetliner crashed about 300 yards from the La Me River, which rescuers had to cross in knee-deep mud, near the village of Grand Alepe. They said debris from the plane was still burning.
A French doctor at the crash site said the two badly burned survivors were taken to a nearby hospital.
The doctor, who asked not to be identified, said the survivor found in the wreckage is in a coma and the other, who was thrown clear of the plane, is in shock. He said the man was able to walk and talk but could not remember anything about the crash.
Late Saturday afternoon, Varig released the passenger list, saying that in addition to 10 Brazilians, the passenger list included 10 Ivorians, five Lebanese, two French citizens, two West Germans, two Senegalese, the American, a Briton, a Peruvian, a Chilean, a Cameroonian and three people whose nationalities were not immediately available.
Brazilian Doctors Dispatched
A plane carrying Brazilian doctors and Varig officials left Brazil for the Ivory Coast on Saturday to aid in rescue efforts and to investigate the accident.
Police said rescue work was slowed because there was no room to land a plane in the wooded area, the site of the first major air disaster in the Ivory Coast since it gained independence from France in 1960.
Varig said the Boeing 707 had been in service for 20 years and recently was sold to the Brazilian air force for use as a mid-air refueling plane but was still being used for passengers.