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Survivors found at Chilean plane crash

The Associated Press
By EDUARDO GALLARDO

June 12, 2008

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A plane carrying 10 people that disappeared four days ago in Chile’s frigid southern forests was found Wednesday with nine survivors who stayed alive by huddling for warmth, sharing food and sheltering in the plane’s wreckage.

The only fatality was 65-year-old pilot Nelson Bahamondes, who survivors said apparently died from internal bleeding two days after the Cessna Caravan crashed while flying the Chilean passengers on a domestic flight to a village in Aysen region.

Deputy Interior Minister Felipe Harboe said Bahamondes maneuvered the plane to lessen the impact of the crash in the heavily forested area. Survivors called him a hero. The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

The plane, which disappeared Saturday after taking off the Chilean city of Puerto Montt en route to La Junta, came to rest suspended in the area’s thick trees, but close enough to the ground that the survivors could enter the wreckage, officials said.

The temperate fell at night to minus 4 centigrade (24 Fahrenheit).

“It was very cold, there was wind, storms and we fought all that by remaining close together,” said 29-year-old survivor Miguel Almonacid. “We used our clothes, our bags and fire to get warm. And we prayed a lot.”

Almonacid told Santiago’s Radio Cooperativa that before he died the pilot told them to use the gasoline in the plane to start a fire.

The survivors ate and drank the milk and food Almonacid was carrying for workers at the salmon processing plant where he works. At one point Almonacid said he thought they “would die inside the plane.”

Aysen Gov. Silvia Moreno said the survivors sought shelter inside the wreckage. The passengers knew the area and had cold-weather clothing with them, she said.

“They survived by helping each other, sharing the few things and food they carried,” she said.

All the survivors were hurt in the crash, but authorities said none of the injuries were life-threatening. They were flown to Puerto Montt.

The survivors said they often heard the engines of passing search airplanes and helicopters, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that they finally saw a helicopter and were able to signal to it for help.

Almonacid said the survivors were thinking of leaving the wreckage on foot in search of help when they were finally rescued.

The plane belonged to Patagonia Airlines, a small regional airline.

Authorities had mounted a large air and ground search operation. They picked up a signal from the plane’s electronic locator transmitter on Saturday, but lost it Wednesday morning.

A helicopter spotted the survivors later Wednesday.

The area where the plane crashed is near the erupting Chaiten volcano. Three of the survivors had been evacuated from the town of Chaiten last month when the volcano first erupted.

The town has since then been virtually destroyed by the water of the nearby Blanco river, thickened by ash from the volcano.

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