Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Plane Crash in Pucallpa
At approximately 4pm EST a TANS (Peruvian carrier) flight went down on the landing approach in an intense wind and rain storm in Pucallpa, Peru. Even though it is only 1/2 mile from our house it is difficult to get details. But we know at this point there are survivors and fatalities as we have seen people being ferried to the main hospital in town. Approximately 120 people were on board. The plane landed about a 1/2 mile short of the runway in a populated community where Food for the Hungry, the organization I work for, is working. No word yet on numbers of fatalities on the ground.
One of the interesting things is that the DEA has a strong presence here in Pucallpa working on coca eradication and they are the ones doing the bulk of the helicoptering of injured people. They have several helicopters and are constantly flying over the house.
When the news came out, a request for help went out on the radio and practically the entire town went out to the crash site. I imagine it is complete and total chaos. The roads are jammed and blocked with people. I will continue to post whatever I hear.
UPDATE: Latest news reports say 40 dead. I will be surprised if that doesn't rise. Normally the TANS flight has between 100 and 120 people. It is a 737 with no first class seating.
UPDATE 2: The latest is that of the 125 on board, approximately 30 survived. This is still very premature and liable to change. I just spoke with an employee of Star Peru, the other airline that flies to Pucallpa and their flight landed 10 minutes before the TANS flight. He was at the airport and right after the Star Peru flight landed a sudden wind and thunderstorm appeared cutting visibility drastically. There was lightning, wind, and dust (anybody who has been to Pucallpa will recall the dust) and the plane just landed early. It does appear from the TV reports that it landed in a field and not a populated neighborhood which is good.
UPDATE 3: News reports say only 98 onboard. About 1/2 were going to Pucallpa and the other 1/2 were on their way to Iquitos, a jungle tourist destination. I heard the list of passengers which was read on TV and there were very few foreign-sounding names. TANS is not used as much by tourists as by Peruvians. It is operated by the Peruvian Air Force. We used to fly TANS but quit because on landing one of the panels (with the reading light and call button) came halfway loose and was hanging down.
UPDATE 4: I talked to another friend who is a pilot who landed a float plane a few kilometers from the crash site on a lake just a few minutes before the crash. He saw the storm that the plane flew into and said it looked pretty intense. There was a sizable hail storm as well with hailstones almost an inch in diameter.
The crash was pretty close into town, but in an area inaccessible to ground vehicles. Because everybody went out to the crash area, there was a big traffic jam as well. Fortunately the DEA helicopters were able to ferry the injured to the hospital. On all the TV coverage you can see the helicopters moving wounded. Without them I really don't know how they would have managed. It isn't like there are other helicopters here in Pucallpa.
UPDATE 5: I am seeing in news reports that the plane allegedly tried to make an emergency landing on a road. I don't know if that is correct or not, because it was in its final approach and lined up with the runway. It crashed no more then 3 km from the runway. Besides, there are not really roads wide or long enough where it crashed to be any help to a plane.
UPDATE 6: The latest word is that the pilot compensated (via flaps?) for severe wind conditions and then the wind just stopped and the plane just dropped short of the runway. I am not a pilot so I don't know if that is feasible or not. [Update: Apparently this condition is called a microburst and is definitely possible. Thanks Craig.]
Also, there was a nurses strike here in Pucallpa, but they all came back to work immediately when they heard there was a plane crash and the hospital had staff and capacity for the approximately 60 wounded from the crash. Our neighbor is a nurse and she went to the hospital to offer her services, but everything was under control and in order and they didn't need her. Pretty impressive considering how crazy the hospital is on a normal day.
UPDATE 7: The latest reports indicate 41 fatalities. I have also read that there were 11 Americans on the flight. That is a little surprising to me. It very well could be that they were headed to Iquitos.
From the morning newspaper it appears that the majority of the fatalities were toward the front of the plane which was incinerated. Survivor accounts indicate that the plane crashed angled down (nose first) and split into two pieces. As of last night, 57 survivors have been rescued out of approximately 100 on board.
For more information on Pucallpa check out our Pucallpa page.