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New grafs 1-10 with rescuers returning, three Bolivians continuing climb

January 5, 1985 GMT

New grafs 1-10 with rescuers returning, three Bolivians continuing climb. Effort to drop skiiers high on mountain also fails. Picks up 8th graf pvs, The Eastern ... Adds two grafs of comment from brother of victim. No pickup.

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Heavy rain mixed with snow fell on Illimani Mountain Friday, forcing mountaineers, journalists and a U.S. diplomat to suspend their search for an Eastern Airlines plane that crashed with 29 people aboard.

However, three experienced Bolivian climbers continued up the mountain.

A group of rescuers who returned to La Paz said it may take a week or longer to reach the wreckage of Eastern flight 980, but the Bolivian climbers said they hoped to reach the plane on Saturday.

The Eastern Boeing 727 slammed into the snow-covered peak on Tuesday, minutes before it was to land in La Paz. Officials say there is no hope that any of the passengers and crew, eight of them Americans, are still alive.

A team of mountaineers and journalists reached a height of about 18,810 feet on the 21,000-foot mountain before being forced back Friday by bad weather, said Ricardo Albert, a mountaineer who led the group. The wreckage was spotted Wednesday at about 19,400 feet.

Team members said they examined glaciers below the crash site for debris, but found none.

U.S. Counsul Royce Fichte, an experienced mountaineer who began climbing the mountain Thursday afternoon, returned to his base camp Friday because of the bad weather and the difficulty of the climb, said Steve Seche, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in La Paz.

The three veteran Bolivian climbers who were with him continued up the mountain and said by radio that they hoped to reach the crash site on Saturday. The climbers included Bernardo Guarachi, who has led more than 30 expeditions up the mountain. His team was at about 18,150 feet on Friday.

A Red Cross team also began climbing the mountain on Thursday, but it turned back after several hours because of hail, rain and fog.

Meanwhile, officials said a Bolivian helicopter had tried to drop mountaineers high on the mountain, in the hope that they could ski down to the wreckage. But they said that effort also failed because of the weather.

The Eastern jetliner crashed on a flight from Asuncion, Paraguay, to La Paz and Miami. Just before the plane disappeared, its pilot contacted El Alto airport by radio, but reported no problems.

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At 12,000 feet, La Paz is the highest capital in the world and the approach to the airport is over craggy, snowcapped mountains. The landing Tuesday would have been the second there for the pilot, Capt. Larry Campbell, Eastern spokeswoman Denise Baker said.

Campbell’s first landing at El Alto had been on the southbound route that originated in Miami on Dec. 31 and ended in Paraguay, she said.

Ms. Baker said a second pilot, Capt. J.B. Loseth, was aboard the plane to monitor the landing, a practice that is followed ″in certain instances when attention has to be paid.″

″That is not to say (Campbell) was not trained to make that approach on a simulator,″ she added.

Campbell, 49, ″went through six or seven approaches on the simulator,″ in training for the landing at El Alto, Eastern spokesman Glenn Parsons said.

Rainy weather has kept Bolivian air force planes and helicopters from being mobilized, said Col. Grober Rojas, who was coordinating air force rescue efforts. He said, ″It is very likely the plane collided head-on with the mountain and exploded on impact,″ and said he doubted anyone survived.

Col. Rene Saavedra, a private pilot who helped find the wreckage of the plane and flew over the crash site four times, said debris was spread over a wide area. He said the plane appeared to be 13 miles off course when it hit the mountain.

Among the passengers was Marian Davis, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, Arthur Davis. Other Americans on the plane were William Kelly, director of the Peace Corps in Paraguay; Jonathan Watson, a U.S. Marine; and a group of Eastern employees that included Campbell, 1st Officer Kenneth Rhodes and 2nd Officer Mark Bird, all based in Miami, Capt. Loseth of Miami and Haywood H. Hargrove Jr. of Houston.

John O’Bryan, brother of Roberto O’Bryan, who was one of the Chilean flight attendants, said after flying over the crash site on an airplane provided by the Bolivian air force: ″This a beautiful mountain, but I can clearly see that it is also dangerous.″

″If my brother had chose a place to die, he would have chosen the Illimani Mountain,″ he said. His brother, a long-time employee of Eastern Airlines, ″always admired the mountains,″ he said.