A Ugandan airliner attempting to land in heavy fog crashed and burned short of the runway at Leonardo da Vinci airport here today.
By dawn, police had recovered 28 bodies from the wreckage of the Boeing 707, which had been en route to Uganda’s Entebbe airport from London’s Gatwick, via Rome.
Airport officials said they believed 23 or 24 survivors were being treated today at three hospitals in Rome and the nearby town of Ostia. Other reports indicated one of the survivors died later.
There were 44 passengers and 7 crew members aboard Uganda Airlines Flight 775, according to Carlo Iovinella, director of the airport police. However, agents for the airline in London said there were 45 passengers and a crew of seven. The discrepancy could not be immediately resolved.
The nationalities of the passengers were not known, but police said many of the injured appeared to be Africans.
Third-country airlines, which sell reduced-rate tickets, are a popular means of transportation between London and Rome for American and other expatriate communities in both cities.
The aged 707 was believed to be a “combi-version,” in which passengers ride in one half while the other is reserved for freight.
The cause of the crash was still under investigation, but officials pointed to the heavy layer of fog that shrouded the airport near the Mediterranean coast as Flight 775 made its approach.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported that visibility was about one mile when the flight was given permission to land.
The tower called the plane again when it didn’t respond, ANSA said. Moments later, airport workers saw a big blaze.
The plane skimmed some trees about 1,000 yards west of the airport’s main runway, then crashed into a field at 12:31 a.m. Rome time.
Flames burst from the wreckage as the fuselage snapped, hurling passengers and debris into the night.
Firefighters fought the blaze for about an hour before they were able to begin the grisly search for victims, airport officials said.
By dawn today, the airport was still closed as rescue workers moved among sheet-covered victims at the scene.
Seat cushions, boxes, a makeup case and a twisted doll were scattered nearby in the mud.
Iovinella said the cause of the crash had not been determined.
But officials said the entire area along the Tyrrhenian coast near the airport, located 15 miles southwest of Rome, had been veiled in heavy fog.