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Jet crash fireball's trail of carnage; Argentine air disaster death toll reaches 70.

An Argentine airplane hurtled out of control and crashed after take-off from Buenos Aires yesterday, killing dozens of people after skidding down a busy road in a "ball of fire."

Flight 3142 plunged to the ground just before 9pm local time, and bounced down the road before coming to a stop in flames near a golf course along the Rio de la Plata river.

At least 69 of the 103 people on board the Boeing 737 were killed, said officials at the scene. TV reports suggest the toll could rise further.

The carrier LAPA (Lineas Aereas Privadas Argentinas) said 98 passengers and five crew members were on the flight from Jorge Newberry airport.

Three bodies were also found in the wreckage of a car near the plane.

Hospitals said they admitted 34 injured people, many with burns and other life-threatening injuries. A coastguard officer who was hit on the ground lost a leg.

Outside one hospital, Mrs Rosa Lombardo wept as she waited for word of her husband. "I always worry about him when he flies. I can only hope," she said.

The plane, which was headed to Cordoba, 475 miles north-west of the Argentine capital, lost contact with the air control tower a minute into the flight, said LAPA spokesman Mr Ricardo Wilson.

There was no immediate reports on what had caused the crash but LAPA was "helping to assist passenger and all those affected," Mr Wilson said.

It only took seconds for some passengers to realise something was drastically wrong.

One survivor, Mr Fabian Alejandro Nunez said he felt the plane losing control, lifting just feet into the air before swooping down.

"I saw people on fire. I was able to save myself through the rear of the plane," Mr Nunez said.

Mr Jorge Desposito, a coastguard official patrolling the river's Costanera Avenue, saw a "ball of fire" pass before him. He pulled his car over and ran to help.

"I pulled four people out - two of them were dead," he said. "I saw many people who were badly burned."

Some bystanders said there were explosions in the wreckage and that some people on the golf course shouted for passengers to get out.

One witness said he saw a young man and a woman escape by jumping from the plane. "They were shouting frantically, 'We're safe! We're safe,"' he said, declining to give his name.

He added that the plane dragged several cars as it skidded across the road.

Police cordoned off the scene as firefighters doused the wreckage. Ambulances sped off with the injured, sirens blaring.

President Carlos Menem and Buenos Aires mayor Mr Fernando de la Rua rushed to the airport.

"We are doing all we can," said Mr de la Rua, who had ordered civil defence workers, to the crash site.

A team of technical experts from Boeing was heading to Argentina yesterday to help in the investigation.

Jorge Newberry airport remained closed yesterday and all flights were diverted to Ezeiza International Airport just West of Buenos Aires.

The region's last major air disaster killed 74 people when an Argentine DC-9 operated by Austral airlines crashed in October 1997.
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Title Annotation:Foreign News
Author:Le Grass, Gilbert
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 2, 1999
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