“The preliminary information we have is that the accident could have been caused by wind shear,” Jorge Belevan, a spokesman for the Peruvian TANS airline said on Wednesday.
Wind shear is a sudden change in wind speed or direction. The most dangerous kind, called a microburst, is caused by air descending from a thunderstorm.
TANS Peru Flight 204 was on a domestic route carrying 92 passengers and eight crew members when it came down near Pucallpa, 490km northeast of Lima.
“The plane did not crash. It did not fall. The plane made an emergency landing,” Belevan said, adding that it did not appear the crash was caused by technical failure in the 22-year-old aircraft.
Meanwhile, rescue workers sifted through the wreckage of the airliner, scouring a muddy jungle marsh in search of more victims from the crash.
Authorities said that at least 57 of the 100 people on board Flight 204 survived the crash on Tuesday when the pilot, seeking to soften the impact, tried to make an emergency landing in the marsh during a fierce storm.
Black box recovered
Instead, the Boeing 737-200 split into two about 32km from its destination, the jungle city of Pucallpa, said Edwin Vasquez, president of the Ucayali region where the city is located.
The plane departed from Lima
Pablo Arevalo, a prosecutor in Pucallpa, said the search teams had recovered the plane’s black box, the flight data recorder, that plays a key role in determining the cause of a crash.
In Lima, from where the aircraft departed, relatives of the passengers and crew members gathered at the capital’s airport to board a special flight Pucallpa. But not all were allowed to board.
Jose Reyna, 30, said he had come with three siblings, hoping to say his farewell to his father, Jose Lino Reyna, 57, a medical technician who perished in the crash. But only one of his brothers was allowed to pass.
“My father died and they have identified him. They recognised him by his clothes and his cell phone. I imagine that he is disfigured,” said Reyna.
Some survivors said they escaped the burning wreckage of the plane in a hailstorm and waded through knee-deep mud to
Police Lieutenant David Mori said 41 dead passengers had been recovered from the plane and 56 people were being treated at hospitals.
Rescue workers had to suspend searches for bodies in the wreckage due to darkness and bad weather on Tuesday night.
“There were people who walked away from the crash uninjured,” Mori said. “It’s not very clear how many.”
Fifty-seven passengers are said
Arevalo said the number of confirmed survivors was 57.
Among the dead were at least three foreigners – an American woman, an Italian man, and a Colombian woman, Mori said.
Many of the bodies could not immediately be identified and at least three people were still missing, he said.
The plane circled the airport, then crashed near a highway, according to officials and radio reports.
Before the landing, the pilot radioed that he could not do the task because of strong winds and torrential rains, airport receptionist Norma Pasquel said.
“I felt a strong impact and a light and fire, and felt I was in the middle of flames around the cabin, until I saw to my left a hole to escape through,” survivor Yuri Salas told Radioprogramas.
“Two other people were struggling to get out, and I also was able to.” He said he heard another person shouting to him to keep advancing because the plane was going to explode.
“The fire was fierce despite the storm,” he said. “Hail was falling and the mud came up to my knees.”
Canal N television broadcast photo images of survivors being carried on stretchers from a grassy field strewn with wreckage.
Tomas Ruiz, another passenger, told Radioprogramas: “It seems it was a matter of the weather. Ten minutes before we were to land in Pucallpa, the plane began to shake a lot.”
It was the world’s fifth airliner accident this month.
“The fire was fierce despite the storm. Hail was falling and the mud came up to my knees”
Last week, 152 people died when a Colombian-registered West Caribbean charter went down in Venezuela.
Two days earlier, 121 people died when a Cyprus-registered Helios Airways Boeing plunged into the mountains north of Athens.
Sixteen people were believed to have died on 6 August when a plane operated by Tunisia‘s Tuninter crashed off Sicily.
In Toronto, all 309 people survived aboard an Air France Airbus A340 that overshot the runway on 2 August.
In January 2003, a TANS twin engine Fokker 28 turbojet, ploughed into a 11,550-foot mountain in Peru‘s northern jungle, killing all 42 passengers – including eight children – and four crew members aboard.