Rescuers call off search in plane crash

78 bodies fished out; no survivors

February 8, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 GMT)

PUERTO PLATA, Dominican Republic (CNN) -- Rescuers who have been scouring the Atlantic for survivors of Tuesday's plane crash called off the search at sundown Thursday.

The chartered Boeing 757 plunged into the Atlantic with 189 people aboard, and rescuers quickly spread out over a 500-square-mile area looking for signs of human life in the shark-laden waters.

Authorities on Thursday lowered their count of bodies retrieved from the ocean from 129 to 78. German ambassador Edmund Duckwitz said the reduction came after officials had a chance to analyze more closely the remains recovered from the sea.

None of the bodies have been identified, Duckwitz said.

raft and bodies

There are no signs that any of the 189 people aboard the Boeing 757 survived Tuesday night's crash, Matthew Kelleher, U.S. Coast Guard petty officer, told CNN Thursday. Despite the low odds, rescuers will keep working throughout the day.

An exact count of bodies recovered has been difficult, because private Dominican boats have joined in the search along with Dominican navy and Coast Guard vessels. (254K QuickTime movie)

Coast Guard officers described finding coffee cans compressed into pieces of tin by the impact of the crash.

"It doesn't look like anybody would have survived that," Coast Guard helicopter pilot Scott Matthews said Wednesday.


The cause of the crash still isn't known, U.S. Coast Guard's Matthew Kelleher said. Coast Guard officials said the plane's flight recorders, which probably would provide the answer, may never be found in water that is 4,300 feet deep in spots. Divers were searching for them. (187K AIFF sound or 187K WAV sound)

Crash debris, including empty life rafts, seat cushions and clothes, is strewn over a two-square-mile area but some had drifted farther away. The Coast Guard widened its search, using computers to analyze the best areas to look for survivors. Three helicopters were scouring a 10-mile area around the crash site, and the Dominican Navy was helping to pick up wreckage. (196K AIFF sound or 196K WAV sound)

Dominican Republic map

The largest single piece of wreckage recovered so far is the plane's landing gear. Several passports and the co-pilot's name tag also have been recovered from the water.

The plane, operated by Alas Nacionales and bound for Frankfurt and Berlin, crashed shortly after takeoff from Puerto Plata, Dominican officials said. Most of the passengers were German tourists. The crew was comprised of 11 Turks and two Dominicans.

The plane was leased shortly before takeoff from the Turkish Birgenair company after Alas' own Boeing 767 developed mechanical trouble, Birgenair said.

Manuel Souffrount, the president of the Accident Investigation Commission in the Dominican Republic, said there was no indication from the pilot that the plane was in trouble before it went down.

Souffrount said the tower only received a message to "stand by" but the flight did turn around after traveling about 12 miles after takeoff.

Meanwhile, in Germany on Thursday, an aircraft owned by the same airline whose jet crashed Tuesday, was temporarily barred from taking off, because it lacked a flight permit, officials said.



The Associated Press and Rueters contributed to this report. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Copyright © 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.