- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

PUCALLPA, Peru — Trudging through knee-deep mud in a hailstorm, at least 58 persons managed to escape a flaming Peruvian airliner that splintered as it crash-landed in the Amazon jungle, killing 37. One aviation specialist called it a “miracle” that so many walked away from the accident.

TANS airline said wind shear — a potentially dangerous sudden change in wind speed or direction, often during a thunderstorm — Tuesday afternoon may have forced the pilot’s attempt at emergency landing, making the TANS Peru Flight 204 incident the world’s fifth major airline accident this month and August the deadliest month for airline disasters in three years.

The Boeing 737-200 was carrying 98 persons, including six crew members, on a domestic flight from the Peruvian capital of Lima to the Amazon city of Pucallpa, company spokesman Jorge Belevan said yesterday.

Among the dead were at least three foreigners — an American woman, an Italian man and a Colombian woman, police Lt. David Mori said. Many bodies could not be identified.

In strong winds and torrential rains, the pilot circled the airport, then tried to make an emergency landing about 20 miles away. He aimed for the marsh to soften the impact, but the landing split the aircraft, said Edwin Vasquez, president of the Ucayali region where the city is located.

Wind shear possibly botched the emergency landing, Mr. Belevan said.

Search teams have recovered the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, said Pablo Arevalo, a prosecutor in Pucallpa.

Airline disasters this month have killed 334 persons. The previous deadliest month was May 2002, with three major crashes that killed at least 485.

One common factor in several of the crashes is the weather, said Bill Waldock, an aviation safety professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona.

More plane crashes tend to happen in August, because thunderstorms — especially dangerous to aircraft — are more frequent then.

Last week, 160 persons died when a Colombian-registered West Caribbean charter went down in Venezuela. Two days earlier, 121 persons died when a Cyprus-registered Helios Airways Boeing 737 plunged into the mountains north of Athens.

Sixteen persons were thought to have died Aug. 6 when a plane operated by Tunisia’s Tuninter crashed off Sicily.

In Toronto, all 309 persons survived aboard an Air France Airbus A340 that overshot the runway on Aug. 2.

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