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At least four of 164 passengers survive U.S. jet crash in Colombia

FBI, U.S. aviation experts rush to site

December 22, 1995
Web posted at: 5:50 a.m. EST (1050 GMT)

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- Three of the seven people who initially survived the crash of an American Airlines into a mountain near Cali, Colombia, have since died, according to a U.S. Embassy task force.

American Airlines flight 965 was carrying 164 people en route to Cali from Miami when it crashed into the 12,000-foot Mount San Jose in clear weather Wednesday, and erupted in flames. It was the world's worst airline disaster this year.

The Embassy task force based in the Colombian capital would only confirm seven survivors, three of whom later died from the injuries they sustained in the crash.

The final number of survivors, however, remained uncertain as conflicting reports emerged from the scene. Early Friday morning, The Associated Press said six people had survived the crash; Reuters reported late Thursday five were still alive.

A family of four initially survived the crash, but only the father Gonzalo Dusan and daughter Michelle Dusan remained alive. The mother, Nancy Delgado, and son, Gonzalo Dusan, succumbed to their injuries.

The task force confirmed that 21-year-old Mercedes Ramirez survived the crash, as did Mauricio Reyes. The two Dusans, Ramirez and Reyes are expected to recover from their injuries.

Human remains and bits of machinery covered the one-mile area where the plane went down Wednesday night in Buga, 40 miles and four minutes from Cali, its destination.

The Boeing 757 lost radio contact at about 9:45 p.m. EST Wednesday, barely five minutes before its scheduled arrival in Cali. The first reports by the airline and Colombian officials said there were no survivors.

Rescue Helicopter

But rescuers who braved darkness, uneven terrain and the threat of leftist guerrillas to search the site raised hopes when they brought back survivors from the wreckage.

But with sunset, hopes were dimming, and a makeshift morgue had been set up in a school in the town of Buga, about 40 miles from Cali.


Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board flew down from Washington Thursday to help at the crash site. Sources told CNN the FBI sent a "disaster team" to Colombia, in part to help identify the bodies.

Attorney General Janet Reno told reporters the agents were being sent to "cooperate and do everything possible to assist."

So far, Reno said, there was no indication that the crash was the result of sabotage.

Robert Crandall

American Airlines chairman Robert Crandall said the cause of the crash was unknown. He said there were no reports of bad weather and that the flight crew were veterans who knew the terrain. (289K AIFF sound or 289K WAV sound)

"We know very little," Crandall said. "All of us are terribly sorry that this tragic event occurred."

Crandall said the area of the crash had been designated a "red zone" because of guerrilla activity in the area, but he added the airline had not received any warnings that there might be any danger to civil aviation because of guerrilla activity.

The airlines said the aircraft, fitted with Rolls-Royce engines, was delivered in August 1991. It had an extensive maintenance check in January, and a less complete one last month.

American Airlines

The plane's 156 passengers included four infants, according to the airlines. It was not immediately clear how many Americans were aboard.

The crew included Capt. Nicholas Tafuri, 57, of Marco Island, Florida, and First Officer Don Williams, 39, of New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

A full passenger list will be released only after all the relatives are notified, the airlines said. It did not say how long that would take.

Most of the passengers were reportedly Colombians traveling to see their families for the holidays in Cali, home to 2 million people.

In Miami, the FBI said an unsigned letter was faxed Monday to The Miami Herald and The New York Times warning of bomb attacks against flights from Venezuela and Colombia.

FBI spokesman Paul Miller said there was no reason to believe the letter was linked to Wednesday's crash, which originated in Miami. Still, the National Transportation Safety Board sent an investigative team that included an expert on explosions and fires.

Boeing headquarters in Seattle said the company had sent a team of engineers to help investigate the crash. Spokesperson Liz Verdier said it was the first crash involving a twin-engine 757, which entered commercial service in 1983.

Colombia map

The Boeing 757 was to arrive in Cali at 9:45 p.m., and lost radio contact five minutes before its scheduled arrival. It was only 37 miles from the city. It apparently strayed from its flight path, going down in an area of heavy leftist guerrilla activity in Colombia.

Director of Colombian civil aviation, Alvaro Cala told local RCN radio that the plane was 13 miles east of its flight plan. He said the plane would have landed in Cali in four minutes had it not crashed.

The crash of the Boeing 757 was the most deadly involving a U.S. carrier since the December 21, 1988, bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

People wishing to receive information about passengers may contact American Airlines, toll free, at 800-245-0999 in the United States. In South America for English speakers the number is 980 11 00 10; for Spanish speakers the number is 980 11 00 11.

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