Friday, March 20, 2009

QUITO, ECUADOR (AP) - A small army plane slammed into an apartment building in an upscale neighborhood of Ecuador’s mountainous capital on Thursday, killing five people aboard the aircraft and two more on the ground.

The plane grazed a house before plowing into the four-story building, sending a fireball and black smoke into the evening sky and filling a residential yard with the aircraft’s wreckage. A thick mist shrouded the neighborhood at the time, though the cause of the crash was 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.”

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

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

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

“I was with my mother in the house when I heard something crash and there was an explosion,” the boy, Said Arguello, told the AP earlier. “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; 2230GMT) 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 Quito.

The north-side neighborhood is also 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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