Survivors Airlifted From Brazil Crash Site; Pilot, Teen-Ager Hailed

From Times Wire Services

Rescue teams Wednesday began evacuating survivors from a Brazilian Varig Airlines jetliner that crashed Sunday in thick Amazon jungle, killing 13 of the 54 people aboard.

An air force helicopter was ferrying 41 survivors from the crash site to a ranch near Sao Jose do Xingu, in north-central Mato Grosso state 1,050 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro, spokesman Col. Jose Maria dos Santos said.

Dense jungle prevented the helicopter from landing at the crash site, Santos said, forcing it to hover over the wreckage while victims were raised by winch.

Officials said the survivors were generally in good condition.

Survivors of the crash credited the plane's captain and a teen-ager for helping save their lives. They also described scenes of panic and heroism as their aircraft ran out of fuel while searching for a place to land in dense rain forest and plowed into the trees.

In interviews with Reuters news service before they were flown to safety, the survivors described how Capt. Cesar Augusto Padula Garcez carried injured passengers from the wreck and kept them at a safe distance until help arrived two days and three nights later.

They also praised 19-year-old Alfonzo Saraiva, who led three other passengers through thick jungle to get help.

"I felt it was my duty and that I had to try," said Saraiva, who led the group for three hours through rain forest and stifling heat to a farm at Fazenda Cumare. From there they went to a nearby ranch that had a radio and called for help.

Wearing a shirt wrapped around his head to staunch a deep cut, Saraiva said that he had been used to the rain forest since his youth in the state of Maranhao.

Flight attendant Solange Pereira de Mello praised "the miraculous skill and courage of our captain."

Stewardess Pereira de Mello said the pilot flew for 90 minutes without knowing where he was after the plane's navigational equipment broke down. He flew until the fuel ran out and then landed blind, she said. The first part of the plane to touch the ground was the tail.

"There was panic among the passengers when the pilot announced that he was going to attempt an emergency landing," said another flight attendant, Jacqelin Klimz.

Flight attendant Luciane Morosini, 24, said that the dead had been in the front part of the plane and were buried by an avalanche of material from behind.

She said one man had an attack of nerves, stood up from his seat and died seconds before the crash landing.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World