LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - A Peruvian passenger jet crashed during a severe storm in Peru's northeastern jungle on Tuesday, killing at least 40 people, police said.
State-run airline TANS said its Boeing 737-200 plane with 100 people aboard made an emergency landing without its landing gear in swampland 1.8 miles (3 km) from the remote Pucallpa airport, 490 miles (785 km) northeast of Lima.
The accident happened at 3:06 p.m. (2006 GMT), TANS said.
"There are 40 cadavers that rescue teams have pulled from the wreckage. There could be more deaths. We assume some 60 people in total since we've rescued 20 injured persons," a police officer in Pucallpa told RPP radio.
There were foreigners among the dead, police Lt. David Mori told Reuters.
"There were Americans on the flight and one was killed along with an Italian. We have also counted an injured Colombian, an Australian and a Spanish woman," he added.
TANS executive Jorge Belevan said 11 Americans were on board but did not elaborate.
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo said in a televised address there were between 20 and 30 survivors, but Belevan said there were 52, including two crewmembers.
"The pilot said we'd be there in 10 minutes, but the turbulence was strong. ... We felt a fierce impact, there were flames and fires around us," said passenger Yuri Salas.
Mori said the search for bodies stopped at nightfall and would restart at daylight on Wednesday because the plane crashed in a swamp area and was not easily accessible by road.
TANS said it would send two planes with medicine and rescue teams early on Wednesday.
It was the third major accident involving a passenger airplane in less than two weeks, after crashes in Greece and Venezuela. In January 2003, a TANS aircraft slammed into a hill in Peru's northern jungle, killing all 46 people on board.
Belevan told reporters that 92 passengers and eight crew, including the pilots, were on board the plane, which left Lima for Pucallpa en route to Iquitos, in the northern jungle near the Colombian and Brazilian borders.
Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian jungle, the navigation gateway to the Amazon and a popular tourist site.
"The plane was about to land in Pucallpa ... but it was caught in a crosswind. ... It did not crash, it was an emergency landing," Belevan said.
He added that the aircraft was built in 1983 and TANS had recently rented it from a South African company. He declined to give a death toll.
"It's really a Dantesque scene," said police officer Arioso Obregon. One witness, Tomas Ruiz, told RPP radio the plane was "totally destroyed."
"The weather was really terrible, there was a fierce storm at the time," a police officer in Pucallpa said.
Police and survivors said many passengers suffered severe burns and broken limbs and were being treated in Pucallpa hospital. Photographs of the crash site shown by TV station Canal N showed local people joining in the rescue effort.
TANS, founded in the 1960s by the Peruvian air force to help serve remote jungle communities, became a commercial airline in 1998. It has around 30 percent of the local market, focusing on routes often neglected by its competitors.
Peru's deadliest air crash was on Feb. 29, 1996, when a Boeing 737 owned by the defunct Faucett Airline crashed in the Andes as it prepared to land in Arequipa, 600 miles (1,000 km) south of Lima. All 117 passengers and six crewmembers were killed.
(Additional reporting by Marco Aquino)
Did you find this article insightful?