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All 93 Bodies Recovered from Guatemalan Plane Crash

January 20, 1986

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Authorities say they have recovered the bodies of 93 people killed in the crash of an airliner taking tourists to Mayan ruins in the jungle of northern Guatemala, but have not determined the cause of the country’s worst air disaster.

The twin-engine Caravelle jet operated by the private Aerovias airlines crashed Saturday as it approached the Santa Elena airport, about 150 miles north of Guatemala City.

According to reports from the State Department and the airline, eight Americans were among the dead. There were no survivors.

Guatemalan officials have not been able to give any reason for the crash, and officials are continuing to look for clues. They said the crew was experienced, and that the plane had been checked mechanically the evening before the flight.

″It was one of the most experienced crews in the country. It was the crew I would have trusted first,″ said a Guatemalan air force captain, who spoke on condition he not be identified.

People who flew over the crash site said the plane chewed a short path through the jungle and apparently disintegrated, strewing debris and bodies over a 300-yard area about eight miles northwest of Santa Elena.

Aerovias had rented the French-built plane, manufactured in the late 1950s or early 1960s, from the Ecuadoran airline Saeta to fly tourists to Santa Elena, about 25 miles south of the Tikal ruins in Peten state.

The Santa Elena control tower last contacted the pilot about seven minutes before the plane was scheduled to land. It said there was no indication of any problem at that time.

Jorge Escober of the National Weather Center in Guatemala said the crash occurred in ″good weather, the winds were calm and the visibility unlimited.″

Officials at a hangar at the Guatemala City airport being used as a temporary morgue said that by late Sunday shuttle flights had brought the bodies of 75 victims back to the capital city, but that they had only been able to identify 33 of them.

Relatives identified and claimed the bodies of the 18 other victims at the Santa Elena airport, officials said.

U.S. Consul Dora Trujillo, who was at the airport for the arrival of a plane bearing bodies Sunday night, said she believed two of the victims to be American but said it would take more tests to be sure. Labels on the coffins bore the names of John Puffett and Teresa Rodriguez, both listed by the airline as American passengers.

Grieving relatives jammed the tiny waiting room of the Aerovias terminal, waiting to be summoned to identify the bodies. They hugged each other, weeping, as the first remains were brought into the hangar.

An elderly man sobbed softly as a forklift brought in a pallet with two bodies, one apparently his wife. ″Twenty-five years, twenty-five years,″ he said over and over.

Besides the Americans, 59 of the victims were reported to be from Guatemala and the rest were from 11 other countries. Among the dead were Aristides Calvani, the former foreign minister of Venezuela, his wife and two daughters.

In Washington, the State Department identified five of the Americans as Dr. Robert Todd Sweeney, and his wife, Patricia, of Cincinnati, Ohio; Paul Consolvo, of Virginia Beach, Va.; Jeffrey Sage, of Long Island, N.Y.; and John Puffett, an Agriculture Department employee whose hometown was not known. The department said it did not know their ages.

The airline listed three other Americans as being among the 93 victims of the crash: Ruth Gonzalez, Teresa Rodriguez and Walter Peter Chinze. The airline’s list did not include hometowns.

Planes taking tourists to Tikal do not fly directly to the area because vibrations might damage the ruins, considered among the finest of the Mayan kingdom. Tikal, one of the largest and possibly the oldest of the Mayan cities, consists of nine groups of courts and plazas built on hilly land above surrounding swamps and interconnected by bridges and causeways. The ruins date from the Classic Era, about 300 to 900.

The crash was the first major accident involving a commercial airliner this year. Last year, 1,948 people perished in plane crashes, making it the worst year ever for commercial aviation.

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