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Wednesday, February 4, 1998 Published at 04:04 GMT


Weather hampers Philippine air crash search
image: [ Relatives of the crash victims anxiously await news near the scene ]
Relatives of the crash victims anxiously await news near the scene

Rescue teams in a remote area of the southern Philippines are battling rain and thick cloud at the site of a plane crash.

More than 100 passengers and crew are thought to have been killed when a Cebu Pacific DC-9 slammed into a mountainside.

Initial reports that 15 people on the twin-engine jet had survived have been retracted.

Relatives of the crash victims have been camping at the foot of the mountain where rescue teams are concentrating their efforts.

Teams on the ground are also being hampered by snakes and leeches, but say they have found scattered wreckage, business cards and a curtain from the airliner. No bodies or survivors have yet been sighted.

Rescue team leader Colonel Jacinto Ligot said 150 soldiers, 80 police and civilian volunteers were scouring the scene The first team to arrive had asked for helicopter assistance, but this was ruled out because of fog and heavy cloud.

[ image: Survivors were found 28 miles from Cagayan de Oro]
Survivors were found 28 miles from Cagayan de Oro
"My instructions to the team are first look for survivors. We are still hoping," said Col Ligot.

But he added: "We did not see any big portion of the plane and we assume it exploded. We saw debris but we did not see any human beings."

Ninety-nine passengers, including five children, were on the internal flight from Manila when it crashed into the rugged landscape of Mount Sumaguya on Monday.

Four foreigners are known to have been on board, from Japan, Switzerland, Austria and Australia.

Clear weather conditions were reported at Cagayan do Oro airport, where the plane had been scheduled to land. But staff said the weather could have been very different in the mountains and confirmed the aircraft was intending to land under visual, not instrumental control.

[ image: Families of passengers beseige Cebu Pacific's Manila office]
Families of passengers beseige Cebu Pacific's Manila office
Final contact between the plane and ground control came 12 minutes before it was due to touch down on the Philippine island of Mindanao. The pilot said he was flying at 11,500ft and preparing to descend. He did not mention any problems.

Air traffic officials said the plane's path from that point to the airport would have taken it over high mountains and deep ravines.

Cebu Pacific, which was created in 1996 when the Philippines deregulated its aviation industry, said the plane was 31 years old and made by McDonnell Douglas Aircraft.

The Boeing Company, owners of McDonnell Douglas, has promised to send investigators to assist the inquiry into the cause of what could be the country's worst air disaster.

A year earlier to the day, a small Cessna plane crashed in the mountains when landing at the same airport.

The accident killed both pilots shortly after the presidential candidate Renato de Villa disembarked at a previous stop. It was blamed on pilot error.

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