8 Survive Crash of U.S. Jetliner in Colombia


At least eight of the 164 travelers aboard a U.S. jetliner that plunged into a Colombian mountain survived a crash and explosion that scattered human remains and airplane wreckage for miles, authorities reported Thursday.

"This is a miracle, this is beautiful," said Dr. Labrero Quintero, the head of emergency medicine at the University Hospital del Valle, where the survivors were taken. "We hope that we can bring many more back."

Investigators still do not know why the American Airlines Boeing 757 bound from Miami to Cali in southwestern Colombia crashed early Wednesday evening.

In all, nine people were rescued, although one has since died, said Efrain Marin, spokesman for Colombia's civil aviation authority.

Short-wave radio operators relayed unconfirmed reports that up to 19 passengers had lived. Official rescue efforts were called off in the cold, foggy late afternoon on Thursday, but a small group of Red Cross volunteers and relatives of the passengers continued searching for survivors through the night.

Officials had originally reported that all aboard perished in the crash.

Mauricio Reyes, a 19-year-old Colombian business student at the University of Michigan, was hospitalized, breathing with an oxygen mask, and had cuts and bruises. Relatives waiting at the military base in Buga, 40 miles north of Cali, hugged each other when they heard Reyes was alive, the Associated Press reported.

"After all I've cried, what incredible joy," said his brother, Andres Reyes, 26.

Authorities believe that the survivors were at the front of the plane, which was detached from the rest of the jet.

"We believe the first impact was sustained at the tail," Gen. Luis Enrique Montenegro, deputy commander of the national police force, said in a televised interview. "The second was 1,000 meters farther on and was against the forest, which acted as a cushion."

Other survivors included a family of three--Gonzalo Dussan and his sons, Michel, 6, and Gonzalo, whose age is unknown. Four others, identified as Nancy and Cindy Delgado, Jackie Gonzales and Mercedes Ramirez, were also rescued, Marin said.

But along with the joy, there was grief in Colombia and Miami.

Raul Alfonso Hurtado, 30, a doctor, was pulled from the wreckage only to die at a Cali hospital five hours later, Marin said.

At Miami International Airport, relatives and friends of those aboard Flight 965 waited for news, and several boarded an American Airlines flight to Cali on Thursday night.

Maurice Ferre, who was mayor of Miami from 1973 to 1985 and is the scion of a prominent Puerto Rican family, did not wait until then. He flew to Cali on a private jet earlier in the day to visit the crash site, a family spokesman said.

Among those aboard the downed plane was his son, Francisco Ferre, 33, a Miami attorney, accompanied by his wife, Marianna, and their 3-month-old son, the spokesman confirmed. All were believed dead.

Other Americans believed killed were the pilot, Capt. Nicholas Tafuri, 57, of Marco Island, Fla., and 1st Officer Don Williams, 39, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! I know him," said Veronique Rivera, an American Airlines flight attendant based in Miami who was reached Thursday as she was preparing for an afternoon flight to Caracas. "I flew many times with him to Caracas, to Bolivia. He's very nice. Very responsible. He was very thorough in his [cabin] briefing before flight."

In Fort Worth, Texas, at American Airlines headquarters, Chairman Robert Crandall told employees over a loudspeaker: "We are both horrified by the event and mystified as to its cause."

The mood was also somber at the Seattle headquarters of Boeing, manufacturer of the plane, which until now has had an unblemished record since its first flight in 1982.

Rescue efforts were hampered by the nature of the crash site--both its remoteness and its location in territory controlled by left-wing guerrillas. And rescuers were forced to wait until daylight to begin their efforts.

The guerrillas may have had some indirect responsibility for the crash: News reports here say they blew up radar equipment in the mountainous area three years ago and it was never replaced.

Marin said 10 helicopters worked from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday looking for survivors.

"Absolute priority was given to rescuing the living," he said, adding that there had been no effort as of yet to remove bodies.

Special correspondents Mike Clary and Anna M. Virtue in Miami and Leila Cobo in Cali contributed to this report.

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