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Honduran Air Crash Survivors Describe Scenes of Horror

October 23, 1989 GMT

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A Boeing 727 shook violently and seemed to plunge just before it crashed in flames into a hillside, killing 131 people, a badly burned survivor said Sunday.

″They told us to put on our seatbelts for landing, and then suddenly the plane began to shake, like air turbulence,″ said Evenor Lopez, a Honduran businessman.

″But it went on for a long time, and we seemed to be descending too rapidly. Some people were screaming,″ Lopez said in an interview.

Investigators from the National Air Transportation Safety Board arrived Sunday from the United States aboard a Coast Guard plane and went directly to the site of Saturday’s crash.

The plane was operated by the Honduran airline TAN-SAHSA.

Authorities said 131 of the 146 people aboard were killed. U.S. Embassy spokesman Terry Kneebone said there were 15 Americans aboard. Airline officials said three of the 15 survivors were American.

U.S. officials in Washington and Honduras issued partial lists of fatalities with no hometowns or ages for many of the victims.

They included: Gregory Paglia, a U.S. Marine stationed in Nicaragua; Daniel Yurista, 37, Prairie Farms, Wis.; Eduardo Apodaca, 49, San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Maria Esther Apodaca, 50, San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Charles Friederich, Washington, D.C.; Robert Hebb, 42, U.S. Agency for International Development employee; Connie Montealegre, 68; Charles Kendall Morrow, Grandview, Mo.; Michael O’Shea, Costa Rica; and Mary Weaver.

U.S. embassy spokesman Mark Jacobs said he could not identify other U.S. citizens until relatives were notified.

The plane’s ″black box″ recorder was flown to Washington for analysis, said Barry Trotter, leader of the Safety Board team.

TAN-SAHSA Flight 414 crashed Saturday morning on a hill 20 miles south of Tegucigalpa while on a flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, with a stop in Managua, Nicaragua.

Maj. Alejandro Arguello, director of Nicaragua’s civil aeronautics, quoted regional air controllers as saying the roof of the plane tore away before the crash.

It was the worst air crash in Central American history. Among the dead were the Honduran Minister of Labor, Armando Blanco Paniagua; and Mario Rodriguez Cubero, an aide to Costa Rican president Oscar Arias.

″I was asleep, and when I woke up we were on the ground,″ said Rosario Ubeda Gonzalez, a 30-year-old Nicaraguan who runs a restaurant in Shreveport, La., with her husband.

″I was buckled into my seat, and I heard some people helping somebody behind me. Everything was on fire and I yelled, ’Don’t leave me 3/8‴

Pilot Raul Argueta was one of the survivors. Doctors said all were in stable condition.

Two Americans, Kurt Shaeffer and Eugene Van Dyke, were evacuated to U.S. hospitals. Jacobs identified Van Dyke as an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Tegucigalpa and said he was taken to a burn center at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.

The hometowns of Shaeffer and Van Dyke were not available.

The other U.S. survivor, Deborah Browning of Washington, D.C., was being treated for a broken ankle and burns.

Hundreds of people gathered at Tegucigalpa’s morgue Sunday as doctors continued the slow task of identifying charred bodies. Among them were relatives of Nicaraguan and Costa Rican passengers who rushed to Tegucigalpa after receiving word of the crash.

The cause of the crash was still not clear.

Speculation centered on the plane’s age, more than 20 years, and on bad weather at Tegucigalpa’s Toncontin airport.

Lopez said that despite the turbulence, he thought the plane was headed for a normal landing until the moment of the crash. He said he couldn’t see the ground because of the clouds.

″I was on fire when the plane stopped. I tell you, I thought I was going to die. But I unbuckled my seat belt and I walked out of the plane, it was all open,″ Lopez said.

″I put myself out with my hands and walked to a house I saw about a block away,″ he said.