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Space_Bar Volume 101, No. 117 Space_Bar Monday, March 26, 2001 Space_Bar

Bodies pulled from wreckage of Carribbean plane crash

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plane crash
Associated Press

Officials work at the scene of a plane crash in Gustavia, St. Bart's, Guadeloupe Sunday. The Air Caraibes plane crashed into a house on a hillside near the airport on this French Caribbean island, killing all 19 people on board and one person on the ground Saturday.

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By The Associated Press

GUSTAVIA, St. Barts -- Emergency workers removed bodies Sunday from the charred wreckage of a twin-engine plane that slammed into a house on the Caribbean island of St. Barts, killing all 19 people on board and one on the ground, authorities said.

Air Caraibes Flight 1501 from nearby Dutch St. Maarten crashed Saturday afternoon as it approached the runway at St. Jean Airport, authorities said.

One American was on board, and most of the other passengers were believed to be French, said Georges Alexandre, local manager for Air Caraibes. Two crew members also were on board, the airline said.

Police were interviewing witnesses and searching for clues to what could have caused the crash in clear weather on St. Barthelemy, a glitzy resort island administered by France that has nearly 7,000 residents and is frequented by tourists who stay at some of the most expensive hotels in the Caribbean.

Retired islander Bertholo Bruno said he saw the plane moments before and then suddenly heard the sound of one engine sputtering. The plane then veered sharply to the left and plunged, he said.

"The plane came in, turned to the left and dropped straight down into the house," said Bruno, who lives across the street.

One man was killed when the de Havilland Twin Otter plane struck the house, located on a hillside just 1,500 feet from the airport, authorities said. The man's wife was hospitalized with minor injuries, said police Capt. Laurent Le Gentil.

The walls of the house struck by the plane were still largely intact, but the roof was destroyed, suggesting the plane descended at a steep angle. Among the scattered wreckage, trees had been singed by fire, but by Sunday the flames were extinguished.

The plane had no cockpit voice recorder, or black box, on board, said Philippe Chevallier, managing director of the Guadeloupe-based airline.

The propeller-driven Twin Otters are among the few aircraft that can land on St. Barts' runway, which is nestled among hills and is particularly short about 2,000 feet.

Pilots have to obtain a special certification to land there, and planes approaching the runway must make a quick descent and fly low over houses before landing.

"It's a nasty obstacle course," said pilot Luis Olivera Jr., who flies charters around the Caribbean.

Air Caraibes, which was formed last year when several small airlines including Air St. Martin, Air St. Barth, Air Guadeloupe, and Air Martinique merged into one organization serving the Eastern Caribbean has 21 airplanes, Chevallier said.

The airline sent a charter flight to France to bring relatives to the crash site, said Herve Siffre, a police spokesman.

A team of seven French investigators from France's Accident and Inquiry Bureau was expected to arrive Sunday.

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