Jet Crashes in Remote Indian Jungle; 69 Die

From Times Wire Services

An Indian Airlines flight crashed into the hilly jungle of remote eastern India on Friday, and all 69 people aboard were killed, officials said.

The Boeing 737-200 was on a 65-minute, 370-mile flight from Calcutta to Imphal, capital of the state of Manipur, on India's border with Myanmar. Officials said all those on board were Indian.

Two air force helicopters sighted the wreckage near Loktak Lake, about 30 miles from Imphal in a lush area that climbs northward toward the Himalayas, Indian news agencies reported.

Salvage teams traveling on tortuous roads reached the site, but efforts to recover the bodies and wreckage were hampered by heavy rain, the Press Trust of India said.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. Press Trust reported that villagers and a guard at Imphal airport said they saw the jet coming down in a ball of fire.

An airline official said a separatist group in the neighboring state of Assam threatened on Thursday to hijack a flight from Calcutta to Jorhat, in Assam. The guerrillas are fighting a secessionist campaign against India.

The official said authorities were alerted Thursday but that nothing happened. He said the threat came in anonymous calls to the airports in Calcutta and Jorhat.

A government spokesman said he had not heard anything to indicate that Friday's Flight IC-257 was a target of sabotage or hijacking.

Civil Aviation Ministry officials said in New Delhi that, although it was not raining at the time of the crash, clouds were low in the area and that the aircraft was approaching Imphal using an instrument landing system. But they said the weather was not bad enough to make a landing unsafe.

Manipur has one of the highest rainfall levels in the world.

It was the third major Indian Airlines crash in less than three years.

In February, 1990, an Airbus A-320 crashed just short of the runway at the southern city of Bangalore, killing 92 of the 135 people aboard. An inquiry blamed pilot error.

The airline's worst accident occurred in October, 1988, when a Boeing 737 crashed on landing at the western city of Ahmadabad, killing 130 people.

On the same day, a Fokker Friendship of Vayadoot, India's second domestic carrier, crashed in the northeastern state of Assam, killing 34 people.

Imphal, a city of 150,000 residents, is in a zone restricted to foreigners because of periodic tribal insurrections. Foreign nationals must obtain permits issued by the federal government in New Delhi.

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