Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Thirteen die in sea crash-landing

TOURIST TRAGEDY While 23 people were rescued from a plane that crash-landed in the ocean off Sicily on Saturday, four are still missing, authorities say

AFP , PALERMO, ITALY

A part of the fuselage of the Tunisian plane that crash-landed in the sea near Sicily is yesterday towed by a boat to Palermo harbor from the accident site.

PHOTO: AFP

Thirteen people were confirmed dead and three were missing after a plane carrying Italian tourists to Tunisia crash-landed on the sea off Sicily on Saturday, Italian and Tunisian officials said.

The exact cause of the crash was not immediately known but the pilot had reported engine trouble, and the Italian transport ministry ruled out a terrorist attack.

Twenty-three were rescued from the crash of the ATR-72 plane, which was flying from the southern Italian city of Bari to the Tunisian resort of Djerba, the officials said.

"It's a miracle we are alive," Addolorata De Pasquale told the Italian news agency ANSA. Some of the survivors were fished out of the water, while others clung to the wings of the wreckage.

Two or three of the survivors were in serious condition, said Admiral Vincenzo Pace, the commander of the Palermo harbormaster's office. He added that two of the dead were children.

All 35 passengers were Italians, and the four crew members were Tunisians, company officials said in Tunis. The charter aircraft was operated by Tuninter, a subsidiary of the national carrier Tunisair.

The pilot reported engine problems shortly after take-off and had intended to make an emergency landing at Palermo. When that proved impossible, he brought the plane down on the sea around 33km from Palermo off Sicily's northern coast.

Italian rescue boats and naval helicopters rushed to the scene and Tunisian officials said they had sent military assistance. The search for the missing was expected to go on through the night.

Pace said that strong winds had made the rescue operation difficult.

"I do not think that we could have saved anyone else," he said.

On shore dozens of ambulances ferried the survivors to Palermo hospitals and around a hundred local residents mingled with police and ambulances waiting for rescuers to return.

In Tunis the national TAP news agency said that the pilot, Chafik Garbi, "succeeded in making an emergency landing at sea, saving the aircraft and thus human lives."

One of the four crew members, the chief steward, was killed in the accident and another, a hostess, was among the missing.

According to reports from the pilot, who was injured in the crash, the plane lost power, causing it to hit the water at a steep angle.

An airline pilot interviewed on French state television, Francois Grangier, said ATR aircraft had a better chance of surviving a landing at sea than many other planes, because of the position of the wings on top of the fuselage.

Luciano Lucarelli, who was rescued with his fiancee, said one of the plane's two turboprop engines had failed, and its propellor had blocked. "Then the other propellor stopped and the plane started going down steeply," he said.

One survivor, 25-year-old Gianluca La Forgia, said in hospital how he and his girlfriend had been able to get out of the plane via a hole smashed in the fuselage by the impact with the water.

"It was like being in a film," he said.

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