Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Nine survivors of plane crash found in southern Chile

AP , SANTIAGO

Nine survivors of a plane crash in Chile’s frigid southern forests said they survived for four days awaiting rescue by huddling close together for warmth, sheltering inside the wreckage and sharing what food they had.

A search helicopter spotted the wreckage of the Cessna Caravan on Wednesday and found nine of the 10 people on board injured but alive. The fatality was 65-year-old pilot Nelson Bahamondes, who survivors said apparently died from internal bleeding two days after the plane crashed while on a domestic route from Puerto Montt to the village of La Junta in Aysen region.

The plane, which disappeared on Saturday, launching a massive ground and air search, came to rest suspended in the area’s thick trees, but close enough to the ground that the survivors could exit and enter the wreckage, officials said.

FIGHTING THE COLD

The temperature at night fell to minus 4°C.

“It was very cold, there was wind, storms and we fought all that by remaining all of us close together,” said 29-year-old survivor Miguel Almonacid. “We used our clothes, our bags and fire to get warm. And we prayed a lot.”

Almonacid told Santiago’s Radio Cooperativa that before he died the pilot told them to use the gas in the plane to start a fire.

The survivors ate and drank the milk and food Almonacid was carrying for workers at the salmon processing plant where he works.

At one point Almonacid said he thought they “would die inside the plane.”

Deputy Interior Minister Felipe Harboe said Bahamondes maneuvered the plane to lessen the impact of the crash in the heavily forested area. The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

Aysen Governor Silvia Moreno said the passengers had cold-weather clothing with them and sought shelter inside the wreckage against the freezing temperatures.

“They survived helping each others, sharing the few things and food they carried,” she said.

NEAR RESCUE

The survivors often heard the engines of passing search airplanes and helicopters, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that they finally saw a helicopter and were able to signal to it for help. They were near to leaving the site on foot in search of help when they were rescued, Almonacid said.

All the survivors were hurt in the crash, but authorities said none of the injuries were life-threatening. They were flown to Puerto Montt.

The plane belonged to Patagonia Airlines, a small regional airline.

Authorities said they picked up a signal from the plane’s electronic locator transmitter on Saturday, but lost it Wednesday morning.

A helicopter spotted the survivors later on Wednesday.

The area where the plane crashed is near the erupting Chaiten volcano. Three of the survivors had been evacuated from the town of Chaiten last month when the volcano first erupted.

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