131 Dead in Worst Philippine Air Disaster
An Air Philippines Boeing passenger jet crashed near the southern city of Davao early Wednesday, killing all 131 passengers and crew in the country's worst aviation disaster, officials said.
The plane passed over Davao airport's runway and then disappeared off radar screens, they said.
Rescuers found the burning wreckage in a coconut plantation on the nearby island of Samal at about 7:30 a.m. (2330 GMT Tuesday).
"There were no survivors," the Air Transportation Office in Manila said in a statement.
The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear.
An Air Philippines official said the pilot had reported engine trouble shortly before the plane disappeared from radar.
"There was a problem in one of the engines. There was no more communication after that," said the official, who asked not to be named.
His account appeared to contradict Transportation Undersecretary Willy Evangelista who theorized it was "pilot error" after the landing was hampered by low-lying clouds.
The airline said a maintenance check before takeoff found no problems.
At Davao's airport, relatives cried and hugged each other as Red Cross personnel tried to comfort them.
The crash of the 22 year-old Boeing 737-200 was the worst air disaster in the Philippines, coming two years after a Cebu Pacific Air DC-109 slammed into a southern Philippines mountain in February 1998, killing all 104 passengers and crew on board.
It was the second disaster to hit the Philippines in a week after an overloaded ferry capsized off the southern island of Jolo, claiming at least 139 lives.
Airline officials said the flight appeared to be packed ahead of the Easter holiday period.
Airline officials declined to immediately release the passenger manifest as they tried to contact next of kin.
Air Philippines customer affairs manager Lea Sison told AFP there were two families with "foreign-sounding" surnames on board, but passengers were not required to list their nationality when they bought tickets.
An Air Philippines official told BBC the plane, manufactured 22 years ago, was carrying 124 passengers - including four babies - six crew and one mechanic.
Aviation officials said the jet took off from Manila airport at 5:20 a.m. (2120 GMT Tuesday) and was due to land at Davao airport at 6:45 a.m. (2245 GMT Tuesday).
Police said the tail section of the plane was found in a coconut plantation near the town of Babac on Samal.
Police officer Jose Armadilla told DZMM radio from Samal that "no survivors were found" and at least 20 charred bodies had been recovered.
President Joseph Estrada ordered Transportation Secretary Vicente Rivera to fly to Davao to oversee the recovery of the bodies and to investigate the crash.
"I am saddened by the news," Estrada said in a radio message. "Let us pray for all the victims."
RECENT PLANE CRASHES
30 January 2000 - Kenya Airways Airbus crashed in the sea off Ivory Coast killing 179 people.
31 October 1999 - EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed off Nantucket, Massachusetts (USA), killing 217.
11 December 1998 - Thai Airways Flight TG261 crashed in southern Thailand. A total of 101 people died.
2 September 1998 - A Swissair MD-11 crashed off Nova Scotia in Canada. All 215 passengers and 14 crew killed.
16 February 1998 - A China Airlines Airbus crashed at Taipei's airport killing 196 people on the aircraft and seven on the ground.
2 February 1998 - Cebu Pacific Air DC-9 crashed in the Philippines, killing all 104 on board -- (Several Sources)
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