- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

QUITO, ECUADOR (AP) - A small army plane crashed into an apartment building in an upscale neighborhood of Ecuador’s capital on Thursday, killing three soldiers, a civilian woman and a child on board, authorities said.

Quito fire chief Atahualpa Sanchez said emergency crews recovered the badly burned bodies of five victims, three of them dressed in military uniforms, while rescuers evacuated an unspecified number of injured people in stable condition.

The army identified the soldiers as the pilot, a major; the co-pilot, a lieutenant; and the mechanic, a sergeant. In a statement, it said the pilot’s wife and son were also killed.

Defense Minister Javier Ponce said the aircraft was a Beechcraft army plane on a training run.

It crashed about 5:30 p.m. local time (6:30 p.m. EDT; 2230GMT) as it approached Quito’s airport from Manta, 160 miles (260 kilometers) to the southeast. The cause was unknown.

A thick mist shrouded the neighborhood at the time of the crash, according to witness Eric Samson, who saw the aircraft slam into the side of the building.

Soon after, explosions could be heard from inside.

Black smoke poured from the four-story building on Quito’s north side during the evening as rescuers searched for victims and survivors. Associated Press journalists at the scene saw rescuers carry off a young girl whose head was bloodied.

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

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 Quito.

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