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U.S. Diplomat, Others Head Toward Plane Crash Site

January 3, 1985

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Red Cross rescue workers on Thursday began the arduous ascent of a snow- covered Andean peak to the wreckage of an Eastern Airlines jetliner that crashed with 29 people aboard.

A U.S. diplomat and five Bolivian mountain men launched a separate effort but bad weather kept them from approaching the Red Cross base camp at the foot of 21,000-foot Illimani Mountain.

Officials said there was no hope anyone was alive aboard the Boeing 727, which went down Tuesday night. Eight Americans were among those aboard.

Heavy rain, fog and cloud cover delayed efforts to reach the crash site, on a steep slope some 19,600 feet up the mountain, or to inspect it from the air Thursday.

Steve Seche, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, said U.S. Consul Royce Fichte and five experienced Bolivian climbers flew to Illimani Mountain on Thursday.

They had planned to join Red Cross workers at a base camp at the Uranu Mine, 35 miles southeast of La Paz, before beginning their climb. But bad weather forced the helicopters carrying Fichte and the Bolivians to land at Coani, farther away from the crash site, Bolivian air force officials said.

Seche said one of the Bolivians has been to the summit of Illimani Mountain ″over 40 times,″ and Fichte has climbed other peaks. ″We have some good, experienced climbers and we’re really hopeful they’ll be able to get up there in a short amount of time,″ he said.

″We have several Americans on the plane and we want to check on any potential for survivors and whatever the situation happens to be,″ the embassy spokesman said.

Eleven Red Cross rescue workers set up a base camp at Uranu Mine on Thursday and some of them then began climbing toward the crash site, said Fernando Lopez de Castillo, a Red Cross official.

He said, however, that ″there is no possibility of survivors″ aboard the wrecked plane.

Col. Grover Rojas of the Bolivian air force concurred. ″It appears the plane crashed head-on. ... The remains of the plane are scattered over a large area. We rule out any possibility of survivors.″

The Eastern jetliner disappeared Tuesday night on a flight from Asuncion, Paraguay to La Paz and Miami. American and Bolivian air force officers, who led a search involving air force planes and a U.S. aircraft, said the wreckage was first sighted Wednesday.

Among the Americans on the plane were Marian Davis, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Arthur H. Davis; William Kelly, director of the Peace Corps in Paraguay; and Jonathan Watson, a U.S. Marine. The Marine’s rank and home town were not immediately known.

The other Americans aboard were all Eastern employees, including Capt. Larry Campbell, 1st Officer Kenneth Rhodes and 2nd Officer Mark Bird, all based in Miami, and Capt. J.B. Loseth and Haywood H. Hargrove Jr.

Eastern spokeswoman Paula Musto said Loseth and Hargrove were not working at the time of the crash. Loseth was based in Miami and Hargrove was based in Houston, she said.

Bolivian air force officials said they were seeking assistance from American experts in aerial rescues because the crash site was difficult to reach by air or land. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were in La Paz.

Two Bolivian air force helicopters and several planes, along with Eastern specialists, were grounded at El Alto airport by heavy rain and fog Thursday morning.

Bolivian helicopters were unable to reach the site Wednesday because of the high altitude.

Richard McGraw, an Eastern Airlines senior vice president, said in Miami that the airline was trying to find a high-altitude helicopter that could reach the crash site.Otherwise, ″it’s likely to take 2 days to climb 21,000 feet″ by land, he said.

However, Ricardo Albert, an Argentine mountaineering instructor who has climbed Illimani four times, estimated it would take 10-12 hours to reach the crash site. He planned to lead a separate group up the mountain, he said.

The highest capital in the world, La Paz is perched among the snowcapped peaks of the Andes which run through the western part of Bolivia. El Alto airport is 12,000 feet above sea level and the last 20 minutes of regular flights into the capital are over mountain peaks, deep valleys and a grassy fertile plateau.