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Searchers comb Pacific for more bodies after Peruvian crash

October 2, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 p.m. EDT (0310 GMT)

LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- A failed computer navigation system most likely allowed a pilot to become lost in dense early-morning mist, causing a Peruvian jet to crash into the Pacific Ocean Wednesday, killing all 70 people aboard.

The Peruvian government blamed the crash on "technical failures," without elaborating. The flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Lima; it was bound for Santiago, Chile.

"It seems there was a blockage in the computer system," said Peruvian Transportation Minister Elsa Carrera de Escalante.

Hampered by fog and rough seas, rescue workers had recovered 10 bodies by nightfall and found parts of the Boeing 757's white fuselage about 40 miles off shore, west of Ancon, Peru, said Adm. Jaime Monge, head of navy rescue operations.

At the time of the crash, Aeroperu Flight 603 was carrying 61 passengers, including four Americans, and nine crew members, the airline said.

Only 11 of the passengers were Peruvians. There were 30 Chileans, two Britons, two Italians, a New Zealander, a Spaniard and 10 people from other Latin American countries.

Five minutes after the 12:42 a.m. takeoff, pilot Erick Schreiber reported equipment problems. (7 sec./77K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

"I don't have any instruments," he said, according to Carrera, who heard a tape of his conversation with the control tower in Lima. "What's happening? What altitude am I at? Why is my ground crash alarm on? Am I over land or sea?"

"You're over sea," the tower reported.


Schreiber calmly asked for a plane to guide him back to the airport. Just before 1:10 a.m., Schreiber advised the tower to prepare for a rescue. Then the tower lost contact with the aircraft.

The pilot never lost his composure during his 28-minute conversation with the tower, Carrera said.

A reporter with Lima's Radioprogramas radio station flying in an air force search plane described seeing pieces of seats and other debris from the jet floating on the fuel-slicked ocean surface. He said the debris was scattered over a one-mile radius.

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who flew over the site, said the plane's body had sunk about 550 feet (167 meters) and had been dragged by the current more than three miles (5 km) from the point of impact.

As rescuers combed the sea through thick fog, anxious family members awaited news of possible survivors. Some were ushered into a private room by Aeroperu employees as they arrived at the Lima airport. Apilio Arande, head of navy security in the Lima port of Callao, said the search for bodies could take days.

Fishermen at sea when the plane crashed said they saw a flash of light and heard the dull impact.

This is the second major plane crash this year in Peru. On February 29, a Faucett Airlines plane crashed in southern Peru, killing all 123 aboard. It was the worst air accident in Peru's history.

Reporter Sharon Stevenson, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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