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Bodies recovered from mountain crash site

By WILLIAM J. WILLITTS

SAN MIGUEL EL ALTO, Mexico -- A well-dressed young woman lay, sobbing, on the grass outside the hangar where bodies of the 166 people killed in Mexico's worst plane crash were being loaded.

'Enrique, Enrique,' she sobbed, 'Why did you go? Why did you leave me?'

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Rescue workers completed the task of recovering the bodies of the 166 victims Tuesday -- a day after the Los Angeles-bound Mexicana Airlines Boeing 727 crashed on a dusty mountainside in the central Sierra Madre mountains.

There were no survivors. Nine Americans were among the dead but their names were withheld pending notification of relatives, U.S. Embassy officials said.

The bodies were taken to a hangar at the Morelia airstrip, about 40 miles from the crash site, for shipment to Mexico City. Morelia airport Administrator Virgilio Pineda said Tuesday 109 bodies had been flown to the capital and the rest would be sent soon.

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About 300 people gathered outside the municipal morgue in Mexico City, waiting to identify relatives who may have died in the disaster.

Mexicana spokesman Paulino Perez said Tuesday the plane's 'black box,' or flight data recorder, was recovered and flown to Mexico City but that the airline had no information on the cause of the crash.

A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman in Washington said investigators from the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and Pratt and Whitney, which made the plane's engines, had been sent to Mexico at the request of authorities to assist in the investigation.

A spokesman for Mexicana's mechanics and ground crew union in Mexico City denied reports that the union had complained the airline's planes were poorly maintained. He said the jets were in good condition.

Mexicana added an extra 80 fliehts last week to handle the crunch of Easter holiday travelers.

Mexicana Flight 940 slammed into the mountaintop near the town of San Miguel El Alto, 80 miles northwest of Mexico City, shortly after taking off from Mexico City Monday on a flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Los Angeles.

The crash was the worst in Mexican history. The deadliest previous crash was on June 4, 1969, when a Mexicana Boeing 727 rammed into a mountain near Monterrey, killing 79 people.

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Flight 940 left Mexico City at 8.40 a.m. At 9:06 a.m., authorities said, the pilot radioed Mexico City, reporting an emergency and requesting permission to return to the Mexico City airport.

Minutes later, the airport control tower in Morelia reported sighting a column of smoke in the rugged mining region of the central Sierra Madre.

Wreckage of the plane was strewn on both slopes of the mountain and recovering the bodies was a grueling task.

Helicopters ferried bodies from the mountain slope to Maravatio, a dusty market town 10 miles from the crash site. From there, the bodies were sent to Mkrelia, 130 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Some 300 soldiers and 200 Red Cross and airline workers, many without shirts under the hot sun, searched for bodies and carted them on stretchers down the mountainside -- an hour's hike through ankle-deep dust -- to a clearing where helicopters were waiting.

In addition to the nine Americans killed, the dead included three Canadians, nine French nationals and four Swedes -- Swedish Embassy Counselor Kerstin Enerfelt, her two children, and her sister.

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