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Airplane Crashes Near Kennedy Airport

At Least Nine Killed on Colombian Jetliner Carrying 147


COVE NECK N.Y.--A Colombian Boeing 707 with more than 140 people aboard crashed in fog and rain last night while on approach to Kennedy International Airport, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens, authorities said.

Avianca Flight 52 en route from Bogota crashed at about 9:45 p.m. in a sparsely populated area of northern Long Island, breaking into several pieces, Kennedy airport officials said.

"There were just dead bodies all over the place...It was the worst thing you ever saw," an unidenitified young man who arrived at the scene told WNBC-TV.

At least nine people were confirmed dead, said Kathleen Bergen, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Early reports from hospitals had at least 33 people hospitalized and others en route.

Doctors on the scene said at least 80 survivors were being cared for there, CBS-TV reported. The FAA knew of at least 30 survivors, Bergen said.

Many ambulances and helicopters were at the scene, where bloodied victims were lined up on stretchers. Some passengers were seen lying motionless. Others, including children, were conscious and apparently not seriously hurt as they were helped from the wreckage.

Kennedy's control tower lost contact with Flight 52 at 9:34 p.m. when the Boeing 707 was about 15 miles northeast of the airport after a five-hour flight, said Port Authority Police Officer Phil Montouri.

Montouri said "there was no radio communication at all to the tower. It just went down."

The plane had missed one approach to Kennedy and gone around a second time, according to the FAA's Bergen. CNN reported that the plane ran out of fuel before it crashed.

The jet broke into four pieces upon impact, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jeff Crawley. There was less than half a mile of visibility and it was raining at the time of the crash, according to the National Weather Service.

Steve Ulman, a Cove Neck resident, said the plane narrowly missed a house and crashed three houses away from one owned by tennis star John McEnroe.

The airliner went down in the town of Cove Neck, located at about the same place where the tower lost contact, said Officer Peter Franzone of the Nassau County police. The plane carried 142 passengers and a crew of seven, authorities said.

Caracol Radio in Colombia, however, reported there were 151 people aboard, but did not differentiate between passengers and crew.

According to Radio Colombiana, Flight 52 left Bogota with a stopover in Medellin, the city known for its notorious cocaine cartel, en route to New York.

The control tower at Bogota's El Dorado International Airport said the Avianca airliner left Bogota at 1:30 p.m. EST, arrived at Medellin 2:02 p.m. then left Medellin at 5:30 p.m. and was scheduled to land in New York at 10 p.m. EST.

A spokesperson for Avianca at El Dorado said the company would have no immediate information or statement.

According to Jane's All The World's Aircraft, Boeing produced the 707 model jetliner for commercial use from 1955 until 1982. The company had no immediate comment on the crash.

Last Nov. 27, an Avianca Boeing 727 was bombed out of the sky minutes after takeoff from Bogota on a domestic flight to Cali. The explosion killed all 107 people on board.

The Extraditables group, made up of drug traffickers fearing extradition to the United States, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a phone call to the Colombian radio network Caracol.

Crawley, the Coast Guard officer, said several cutters and boats were en route to the area just in case some debris or victims were in the water.

"We have reports that the crash is on land and that it's in four major pieces," Crawley said.

Control tower officials said the plane may have lost power in one of its four engines. Bergen, the FAA spokesperson, said the agency had reports the plane lost a second engine as well.

Peter Whitelaw, who lives down a hill from the crash site, said he could see a small portion of the downed plane through the trees. He said there were few homes in the area.

"I heard a rumbling, a very loud rumbling," said Whitelaw, who was on an indoor tennis court at the time. "It sounded as if your car was gearing back and you were stripping the gears, and the typical rumble you get from a jet plane going over."

"Normally in bad weather they circle out here but this was louder than normal. Then we heard the crash," he said, adding that through the woods "I see no flames or smoke, or smell anything."

He said the road leading to the crash site was clogged with emergency vehicles.

"These are very narrow roads," Whitelaw said. "They're trying the best they can to get to where it crashed. They're running up the road with stretchers and medical equipment." Most phone lines were down and power was cut off, he said.

"I happened to see a plane going very low," said another witness, David Johnson. "At the altitude it was at I really could not hear any engines. So I am assuming the engines had conked out but there really was no fire or anything."

The area of the crash is near Oyster Bay Harbor on the north shore of Long Island, just south of the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, home of President Theodore Roosevelt. It is a isolated, wooded area of expensive homes.

Nick Fisher, a camera operator for WCBS-TV, said there were "maybe hundreds" of rescue workers and volunteers caring for the injured.

"The plane is laying on an incline in a wooded area adjacent to a house, broken in several sections," Fisher said. "Adjacent to the airplane there is a large area where victims are being attended to, and ambulances ready to transport those most needing assistance."

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