Argentine Air Crash Probed

Investigators are raking through the twisted wreckage of the Boeing 737 that crashed Tuesday in Buenos Aires, killing at least 70 people onboard and on the ground.

The Lineas Aereas Privadas Argentinas (LAPA) jetliner burst through an airport fence, careered across a busy highway, dragging cars and heavy machinery, before exploding in flames alongside a golf course.

Technical experts arrived Wednesday from the United States to assist the investigation. The team included specialists in aircraft systems on the Boeing 737, the world's most commonly used commercial airplane.

The crash near downtown Buenos Aires's Jorge Newberry airport was Argentina's worst aviation disaster.

Doctors said at least 10 survivors had only minor injuries and were released from hospitals. Others were critically injured. Rescue workers said Wednesday the pilot and co-pilot were among the dead.

Relatives of those unaccounted for crowded a downtown government office to press officials for any news of their loved ones. Exasperated, they complained of a lack of information and little cooperation from airline officials.

Carlos Roman Perez sobbed as he vented his frustrations about trying to determine the fate of his 24-year-old son, a university student who traveled to Buenos Aires to take a dental class.

"I've heard so many different things ... that he's injured, disappeared," he said. "I'm tired of talking to the people at LAPA. All I want is an official list of passengers who got on the plane." Roman Perez said his only hope was that his son had gone to a friend's house after fleeing the wreckage.

For those who lived through the crash, survival was freakishly determined: whether by a last-minute decision to change seats, by a quick decision to flee the burning wreckage, or just by the luck of being in the right place on the plane.

Jose Amayo, a 47-year-old doctor, said he frantically yanked at his seat belt after the plane slowed to a halt and flames began rising outside his window, consuming the front end of the plane.

"I was the only person seated in my row so I just rushed out the back door," he said. "When I realized I was OK and in one piece, I turned around (towards the plane) and couldn't believe my eyes. I just stood there."

Also among the fortunate was 35-year-old Gabriel Vanegas, who said he felt he had been born again. He vowed to never forgot the day of the wreck.

"From here on out, I've got two birthdays a year," he said.

The crash has drawn accusations from maintenance workers that LAPA cut corners on safety to save money.

The privately owned airline, which recently began offering flights to Atlanta, said Thursday it would not immediately comment on the allegations made by the Association of Aeronautical Technical Personnel (APTA), a trade union.

APTA chief Ricardo Cirielli said he had reported LAPA safety breaches to the goverment last year to little effect.

Cirielli alleged that LAPA only employed six technicians per plane -- compared to 17-26 per plane in other airlines.

"They are dodging spending on maintenance," Cirielli said, adding that up to last year "in many cases instruments and controls were simply not repaired at all."

In an advertisement in local papers, LAPA owner Andy Deutsch said the 29-year-old Boeing 737 was in perfect condition and had passed a major inspection in July.

Deutsch, a pilot himself, said Wednesday he thought birds might have been sucked into one of the jet engines.

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