SAN JUAN, P.R. -- Spokesmen for the Puerto Rican Port Authority and the U.S. Coast Guard said today that baseball great Roberto Clemente and four other persons were killed Sunday night, when a cargo plane en route to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua crashed shortly after takeoff from Puerto Rico.
The spokesman said the plane, a four-engine, propeller-driven DC7 carrying relief supplies, apparently developed engine trouble after take off and was trying to return to the airport when it crashed into the Atlantic about a mile off the coast.
The Coast Guard cutter Sagebrush and a 30-foot auxiliary boat were dispatched to the scene, along with a Navy helicopter. They reported picking up debris but said there were no signs of survivors.
An unofficial report identified the other four victims of the crash as Arthur Rivera, president of Interstate Air Service Corp., which owned the plane; Jerry Hill, the pilot; Francisco Matias, engineer, and Rafael Lozano, said to be an associate of Clemente.
Clemente, 38, married and the father of four children, was an 18-year major league veteran, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Clemente was head of a committee which was gathering supplies for relief of the thousands of victims of the earthquake which virtually wiped out Nicaragua's capital of Managua.
Jose Antonio Paris, who lives on the beach off which the plane crashed, said the plane was flying very low when he saw it trying to return to the airport.
"I was afraid it would hit the palm trees," he said. "Before it got to the water's edge there was an explosion. There were three more explosions after that, the fourth one just as the plane was plunging nose first into the ocean. It sank quickly. Not more than five minutes passed before it was completely under water."
After news of the crash was released, the baseball star's relatives gathered at the home of his parents here.
Clemente's wife, Vera, was reported under sedation at their home in Carolina, a San Juan suburb.
Clemente, star right fielder of the Pirates and winner of the coveted Most Valuable Player award in 1966, was a favorite of fans and players alive.
In the months following the baseball season in the United States, Clemente conducted clinics for youngsters in Puerto Rico, the latest of which was last Wednesday. George Knapp, president of the Puerto Rico Telephone Co., which sponsored clinics, said when told of his death, "He was a real gentlemen and friend."
Clemente was the star of the 1971 World Series when Pittsburgh beat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. He was named to the National League All Star team 12 times and over his 18-year career had collected more than 3,000 base hits.
The Coast Guard said the plane carrying Clemente took off from San Juan at 9:15 p.m. EST Sunday, developed engine trouble and crashed in about 80 feet of water while attempting to return to the airport. Searchers said they located bits of wreckage about a half mile from shore. They said they also found life rafts, life jackets, luggage and boxes apparently filled with the relief items for Managua.
The plane apparently had originally intended to leave for Managua on Saturday but for unknown reasons was delayed until today.
One of Clemente's nieces, who asked that her name not be used, said Clemente's wife Vera drove him to International Airport of Isla Verde in Puerto Rico.
The niece said Vera Clemente waited until her husband had boarded the plane then left without waiting for the plane to take off because it was New Year's Eve and she expected guests for a party at the Clemente home.