59 People Killed in Romania’s Worst Air Disaster
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ A Romanian airliner crashed into a snowy field outside Bucharest minutes after takeoff Friday, killing all 59 people aboard. Witnesses reported seeing one or two explosions before the jet went down.
Three Americans were among those killed when the Tarom airlines Airbus A-310, en route to Brussels, Belgium, crashed in a sleet storm near the village of Balotesti, about a mile north of Otopeni airport.
``It looks as if it never existed,″ Interior Minister Doru Ioan Taracila said after surveying the charred scraps of wreckage strewn about a potato field. ``There’s nothing left of it.″
Two weeks ago, a Tarom flight to Brussels was forced to make an emergency landing in western Romania after the airline received an anonymous bomb threat, said spokeswoman Veronica Sabau. Nothing was found.
No threat was reported Friday. Airport officials said the crash occurred without warning.
``Until the moment of the crash, three minutes after takeoff, the plane was going very smoothly,″ said Dan Andrei, a civil aviation official at Otopeni. He said weather had not been a major problem, noting that other planes had taken off without incident.
Transport Minister Aurel Novac, who cut short an official visit to London, said that according to preliminary eyewitness accounts, ``it seems that we are talking about one explosion or even two,″ the state news agency Rompres reported.
``At one moment, I saw the plane exploding in the air,″ one witness, Valentin Mocanu, told local radio. ``Then I saw flames, and a few seconds later, I heard a more powerful blast on the ground.″
Another civil aviation official, Razvan Berea, said because debris was scattered over a relatively small area, the plane probably exploded either close to the ground or on impact.
Grim-faced police combed through the debris all day, carrying away body parts and clothing scraps in clear plastic bags. The plane’s black box had not been found by sundown.
The plane’s charred nose was buried deep in the ground. The largest chunk of wreckage visible measured no more than six or seven feet across.
Aviation experts from France and Belgium headed to Bucharest to help in the investigation.
Tarom spokeswoman Aurica Filip said all 49 passengers _ mostly Belgians _ and 10 crew members were killed. The American victims were identified as Terry Chung, a Treasury Department official; and the Rev. Norman Hoyt and his wife, Virginia, both 67, of Columbia, S.C.
Mrs. Chung had been working as an adviser to the Romanian central bank since Jan. 10, the U.S. Embassy said. Her hometown wasn’t immediately available.
The Hoyts had been in Romania for three weeks of missionary work, according to officials at Columbia International University, where both worked.
As dusk settled, soldiers carried mattresses and blankets to the site for the overnight watch in hastily erected tents. Weeping villagers, stunned by the crash, asked soldiers to light candles for the dead, an Orthodox custom. But chilly winds quickly extinguished the flames.
It was Romania’s worst air disaster, and President Ion Iliescu sent condolences to the victims’ families and friends. Tarom’s two other Airbuses were immediately grounded.
The jet, in service since 1987, was acquired by Tarom in April 1994, according to Airbus Industrie in Paris. The craft had accumulated more than 31,000 flight hours, the statement said.