- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

QUITO, ECUADOR (AP) - An upscale neighborhood in Ecuador’s capital turned into a charred, smoky disaster scene when a small army plane crashed into an apartment building, killing seven people and sending a fireball into the evening sky.

The plane grazed a house before plowing into the four-story building. A thick mist shrouded the neighborhood at the time of the crash, though its cause was still unknown.

“It was horrible. I heard the plane flying very low, then I heard the explosion,” neighbor Camille Avfert told The Associated Press. “We ran out onto the street and saw fire.”

Emergency crews recovered victims’ badly burned bodies, while rescuers evacuated an unspecified number of injured people in stable condition, Quito fire chief Atahualpa Sanchez said. AP journalists at the scene saw rescuers carry away a girl whose head was bloodied.

An army statement said three soldiers on the plane had died: the pilot, a major; the co-pilot, a lieutenant; and the mechanic. The pilot’s wife and son were also killed.

Two other people on the ground died, including a woman identified as Elena Reascos, the mother of a 9-year-old boy, the Red Cross reported.

“I was with my mother in the house when I heard something crash and there was an explosion,” the boy told the AP. “The flames were everywhere. I couldn’t get out of my room, and the firefighters rescued me.”

Red Cross official Henry Ochoa told broadcaster Ecuavisa that seven bodies had been found, but “there may be another person or more underneath the fuselage.”

Defense Minister Javier Ponce said the Beechcraft army plane was on a training run. It crashed about 5:30 p.m. local time (6:30 p.m. EDT) as it approached Quito’s airport from Manta, 160 miles (260 kilometers) to the southeast.

The aircraft went down about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from the airport on a street where four other planes crashed during the 1990s.

Gonzalez Suarez Avenue, with luxurious buildings up to 15 stories tall, is along the path of descending airplanes as they prepare to land in Ecuador’s mountainous capital, Quito.

The north-side neighborhood is home to the U.S. ambassador’s residence, though the crash occurred some distance away and an embassy spokeswoman said the ambassador was not hurt.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa visited the site to learn details of the crash.

___

Associated Press writer Jeanneth Valdivieso contributed to this report.

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