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Probe Cause of Ivory Coast Crash; Say Many Survived Impact to Die in Blaze

January 7, 1987

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Experts tried Wednesday to determine what caused the crash of a Brazilian jetliner, and the only survivor said many of the 51 people on board lived through the impact only to die in the resulting fire.

Searchers were combing the densly forested marshland where the Varig airlines Boeing 707 went down Saturday shortly after takeoff from Abidjan for Rio de Janeiro. They were looking for the plane’s voice recorder, one of its two ″black boxes″ considered crucial to determining the cause of the crash.

Antonio Jose Schittini Pinto, Varig’s chief of operations and head of the Varig investigative team here, said the experts probably would open the flight recorder, the other black box, on Wednesday. Even so, he said the recorder would probably have to be sent abroad, possibly to Washington, to be properly decoded and analyzed.

The flight recorder monitors the plane’s altitude, speed, fuel pressure, vibration and other technical details.

The Ivorian Civil Aviation Administration is coordinating the investigation with the help of Brazilian and American experts.

Investigators were expected to listen Wednesday to the Abidjan control tower’s recording of radio conversations with the flight’s crew, Schittini said.

Discovery of the voice recorder would allow investigators to listen to the crew’s comments before the plane crashed about 12 miles from Abidjan.

Forty-nine of the 51 passengers and crew died in the crash. One of the survivors, a British citizen, died of his burns Tuesday en route to a Paris hospital.

The lone survivor, Ivorian physical education instructor Neuba Yessoh, appeared on Ivorian television Tuesday night. He said many of the passengers survived the crash but were burned to death in the subsequent fire.

″It was painful. The cries, the screams for help,″ he said. The instructor, still hospitalized, was heavily bandaged on both arms from shoulder to hand. His hairless head showed burns, blisters and cuts that had been stitched.

Yessoh helped the British citizen, Ahmad Wansa, out of the aircraft but was unable to save others due to the flames.

″The flames got so high there was no possibility to return to get those who were crying out,″ he said.

Yessoh confirmed earlier reports that one of the engines caught fire before the crash. The pilot radioed the Abidjan tower that he was having problems, including an engine fire, and was returning to the airport when the plane went down.

Update hourly