Cargo plane clips church; dozens killed in town below

MANTA, Ecuador (AP) — The Miami-bound cargo plane clipped a church tower and set an entire neighborhood ablaze, creating a wall of flames so hot that rescuers could only listen to the screams of the injured.
“It was a nightmare. The barrio looks as if it has been bombed,” resident Vicente Abad said Wednesday. “Everything is in ruins.”
The Boeing 707 destroyed Abad’s garage late Tuesday night when it smashed into a crowded neighborhood of Manta. The plane’s wheels were embedded in one of the walls.
At least 30 people were killed, including the plane’s three crew members, an American and two Colombians. A priest at the church also was killed. About 80 people were injured, most with burns, and as many as 300 were left homeless.
“It was terrible to have to listen to the screams of pain by the injured,” Abad said. “The flames did not let anyone get close to help them. There were not enough firemen.”
Doctors said some of the injured were in critical condition and might not survive. More than 30 homes and a school also were destroyed in the crash.
Authorities feared the death toll could rise because the homes in the area of the crash are tightly grouped and made of flimsy material.
“There are small homes buried under pieces of the fuselage,” said Maj. Jose Parraga of the Manta fire department. Parraga estimated the death toll could reach 40 once the rubble was cleared away.
Dumas Farid, a doctor at Manta hospital, said there was little hope of finding anyone alive.
Colombian officials identified the Colombian crew members as Henry Ripol and Ernesto Encizo. The American was identified as pilot Edwin Rodemberg. No hometowns or ages were given.
The Millon Air jet had just taken off from Manta’s airport and was bound for Miami with a cargo of frozen fish.
But it clipped the bell tower of La Dolorosa — the “Grieving Virgin” — Roman Catholic Church in this city of 150,000 people, 160 miles southwest of Quito.
“The plane could not pick up altitude and plunged to the ground wrapped in flames, like a ball of fire,” said Jose Quintana, a street vendor.
Patricio Ramos, a journalist in Manta, said the plane was already on fire when it plunged to the ground. “I saw it come in very low over my house. One of its wings was in flames,” Ramos said.
“It was a hell. The sky was red … horrible,” said Bernardo Caicedo, a laborer who lives eight blocks from the crash site. Caicedo said tanks of cooking gas were blowing up “one after the other.”
Human remains, including hands and legs, lay scattered among smoldering homes and rescue workers carried out blackened bodies.
Because Tuesday was a local holiday, many families had left town to enjoy the day off. That raised hopes that some of the crushed homes may have been empty.
The Boeing 707-320C Convertible was first delivered to American Airlines in 1967, and has had several owners since, according to Boeing spokesman Dick Schleh in Seattle.
President Abdala Bucaram said he was told that the plane had not been able to gain altitude because it was overloaded with fuel. Eduardo Larrea, vice president of Miami-based Millon Air in Ecuador, said the plane had filled up with fuel in Manta for its flight to Miami.
Radio reports said the plane was carrying 14,000 gallons of fuel; the plane’s fuel capacity is 23,855 gallons. Schleh said he couldn’t say whether it was overloaded because he didn’t know what the plane’s payload was.