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Cargo Plane Crashes in Downtown Ecuador City

October 23, 1996

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ A cargo plane crashed in flames in the downtown of an Ecuadoran port, killing at least 23 people and raining fiery debris on dozens of homes, authorities and radio reports said today.

The Boeing 707 had just taken off for Miami with a cargo of frozen fish when it slammed into the bell tower of a church in Manta at 10:40 p.m. (11:40 p.m. EDT) Tuesday, the reports said.

Radio reports said all three crew members, believed to be Americans, were killed. A correspondent on the scene for Radio Quito said the bodies of 20 residents were in the town morgue, burned to death. A priest at the church was among the dead.

At least 20 people were hospitalized with ``critical burns,″ said Leonardo Cedeno, head of the Manta hospital.

Authorities feared the toll could go higher because the homes in the area of the crash are tightly grouped and made of flimsy material.

``It’s impossible to know the number of victims because the flames have prevented us from reaching all the homes,″ said one firefighter, who did not give his name.

President Abdala Bucaram arrived in Manta early today and called the crash ``a very serious tragedy.″

New reports said the aircraft struck the tower of the La Dolorosa church in downtown Manta, a Pacific coast city of 150,000 residents about 160 miles southwest of Quito. The craft broke up in flames, setting fire to surrounding houses.

Radio Quito said the church was almost completely destroyed in the crash.

``The plane didn’t gain altitude and fell to the ground like a ball of fire,″ one witness told a Quito radio station.

Civil defense and municipal workers and firefighters were struggling to rescue victims.

The last major crash in Ecuador was May 4, 1995, when a private jet went down in the Andes Mountains near Quito, killing all eight aboard, including Argentine oil executive Jose Estenssoro.

In Ecuador’s worst recent crash, a DC-8 cargo plane crashed in Quito on Sept. 22, 1984, killing 75 people.

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