Rescuers saved at least nine of the 164 holiday travelers aboard a jetliner from Miami that crashed into a Colombian mountain and exploded, scattering human remains and the wreckage of an American Airlines jet for miles, authorities reported Thursday.
The Boeing 757, which hit a mountain in the southwestern part of the country, was bound to Cali from Miami. The cause of the crash is not known.
In all, nine people were rescued in the course of the day, although one has since died, said Efrain Marin, the press spokesmen for Colombia's civil aviation authority.
Authorities had originally reported that all aboard perished when the airplane crashed Wednesday evening.
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.
"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. Because this is a miracle."
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."
The 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.
Throughout the day Thursday, relatives and friends of those aboard Flight 965 waited at Miami International Airport for news. Late Thursday, several of those waiting boarded an American Airlines flight to Cali.
Maurice Ferre, who was mayor of Miami from 1973 to 1985 and is the scion of a prominent and wealthy Puerto Rican family, did not wait until then. He flew to Cali Thursday on a private jet to visit the crash site, a family spokesman said.
Among those aboard 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.
At the Colombian government's request, Boeing has sent a five-person team to investigate the accident, Boeing spokesman Craig Martin said.
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 the radar equipment in the mountainous area three years ago and it was never replaced.
"The radar was blown up," Alvaro Cala, director of the civil aviation authority, said at a press conference. "The contractor hasn't wanted to go back [to fix it] because of the danger of the area, and we've been discussing it for the last few months."