TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- The military planned today to bring to the capital the bodies of some 52 passengers who died aboard a U.S.-supplied Hercules C-130 airplane that crashed in Honduras' worst aviation accident.
Col. Leonel Gutierrez Minera said Friday the military transport plane crashed, apparently in bad weather, minutes before it was to land on a jungle runway in eastern Honduras Thursday. Many of the passengers were burned beyond recognition, he said.
'The plane was found totally destroyed, and all its occupants perished,' said Gutierrez Minera in a statement broadcast over national radio and television. 'Severe weather conditions prevailing in the area could be the cause that provoked the accident.
'The magnitude of the impact caused the plane to disintegrate and burn, for which reason the recovery of the bodies has been made difficult,' he said. 'Some of the bodies have been totally burned, making the identification of the cadavers impossible.'
Gutierrez said the bodies would be taken today to a military base on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa.
Authorities said the crash of the Hercules C-130 airplane was the nation's worst aviation accident.
The U.S.-supplied plane was enroute from the capital to the military base of Durzuna in Gracias a Dios province, officials said. When the plane last reported to the control tower, it was flying at 4,500 feet approaching Durzuna for a landing, some 190 miles northeast of Tegucigalpa.
Air Force Col. Edgardo Mejia said the plane's wreckage had been found 'in heavy jungle in an inaccessible region.' He said men working with chain saws tried to open an area of the jungle to allow helicopters to land.
Ground crews, surveillance planes and helicopters combed hills around the Miskito Indian town of Wampusirpe, 10 miles from Durzuna, for more than 12 hours before finding the wreckage, Mejia said.
A military spokesman said the Hercules C-130 was carrying 52 soldiers and civilians. It also was carrying a cargo of heavy military equipment and three tons of food to troops stationed in the remote eastern Mosquitia region.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman said he did not think any Americans were aboard the craft.
The Hercules was recently purchased from the United States and was equipped with advanced radar. It was flying into a landing strip that was built less than six months ago by U.S. troops participating in joint military exercises.
In January 1985, a similar C-130 Hercules aircraft, traveling from the U.S. Southern Command in Panama to a Honduran air base, plunged into the ocean off the Caribbean coast during bad weather, killing all 21 U.S. troops aboard.
Honduras is one of Washington's key allies in Central AMerica, and U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels fighting to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist government are based along its border with Nicaragua.