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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 04:22 GMT
Lost plane found in Andes

The Lancastrian was in service after WWII

Climbers have discovered bodies and wreckage from a British passenger plane high in the Andes mountains, 53 years after it was lost in a storm.

The Avro Lancastrian aircraft was discovered on top of the 6,800ft Tupungato mountain, in Argentina.

Historians said the plane - based on the famous wartime Lancaster bomber - would be a unique piece of aviation history, as the only one of its kind left in the world.

The British South American Airways flight crashed on 2 August 1947, killing all 11 people on board.

Alejandro Moiso with part of the wreckage
Climbers discovered three bodies, preserved by permanent sub-zero temperatures on the peak.

The fuselage of the aircraft, named Star Dust, appears to have shattered into pieces but two of the climbers who came across the crash site, Alejandro and Jose Moiso, recovered a propeller, piece of a wing and an oxygen canister in "near perfect" condition.

"This would be the only Lancastrian left in the world. It's a very special find," said Harry Holmes from the Avro Heritage Group.

"Anything that clears up a mystery after all this time is fascinating and the occupants will finally be able to get a decent funeral."

The plane was reported missing after it disappeared during a heavy storm en route to Santiago, Chile from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The plane was found by a five-person hiking team last Wednesday.

Mystery call

An Argentine judge has ordered DNA tests on the bodies to determine the identities of the three people.

All five crew and six passengers have been listed missing presumed dead since 1947.

Documents at the Public Record Office, Kew, show it was flown by Capt Reginald Cook, 29, First Officer Norman Cook, 30, and Second Officer Donald Checklin, 27, all ex-RAF pilots.

Radio Officer was Dennis Harmer, 28, and the "star girl" or "air hostess", Iris Evans, 26, a former chief petty officer in the Wrens.

Passengers were Paul Simpson and Marta Limpert from London, and four passengers who flew from Buenos Aires - Peter Young, Casis Said Atallah, Harold Pagh and John Salt Gooderham.

A telegram to the Foreign Office two days after the plane disappeared read: "Cause of disaster may never be known and in the light of former accidents in the Andes, aircraft may not be found for years, if ever."

The documents also reveal a mysterious radio message was received 30 minutes after Star Dust took off from Buenos Aires.

The captain radioed to report turbulent conditions and heavy snow but the final message received in Morse code was transcribed as "STENDEC". Nobody knew what it meant.

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