QUITO, May 4 -- A twin-engine plane carrying the chairman of the Argentine oil company YPF and other Argentine and Chilean businessmen crashed into a mountain in Ecuador Thursday, killing all seven people aboard. Officials in Quito said the aircraft, a twin-engine passenger plane, crashed into the Sinchologua mountain 13,000 feet (3,960 meters) above sea level, some 25 miles (40 km) from the Ecuadorean capital. In Buenos Aires, Argentine President Carlos Menem confirmed the death of YPF chairman Jose Estenssoro, who was among those traveling on the flight to Quito. 'The information we have is that there were no survivors,' Menem said. 'I am very grieved, very pained. He is a really exceptional man, he was...he did a lot for YPF and for our country.' Chilean authorities said the other occupants were Chileans Juan Pedrals, manager of the state-owned oil firm ENAP, Manfred Hezht Mittersteiner, Jorge Rodriguez Sobarzo and Argentine Ricardo Zinn, as well as the pilot and co-pilot, Arturo Painex and Abelardo Palix. Gen. Carlos Puga,chief of the Ecuadorean air force's air transport command, said initial reports from pilots 'indicate the plane has crashed and that, going by the characteristics of the place, it is presumed there are no survivors.' Puga said the plane probably crashed around midnight, although the cause of the accident had not been determined. He said the plane was off course. 'The plane did not turn to approach the airport about 16.8 nautical miles away, which means the pilot continued in a southeasterly direction for some reason that at this point we cannot specify,' Puga said.
Rescue work was hampered by weather conditions in the area Thursday. Ecuadorean television reported efforts were being made to reach the site by land, because cloudy conditions made access by air too hazardous. Aviation officials in Bolivia said the plane stopped over at the El Alto international airport in La Paz to refuel Wednesday night, and took off for Quito around 9:55 p.m. Ecuadorean civil aviation operator Alberto Cortez said the plane was declared in an emergency 30 minutes after entering Ecuadorean airspace, when ground crews lost contact. The plane had been expected to arrive in Quito early Thursday. YPF press spokesman Hugo Martini said Estenssoro, a 61-year-old industrial engineer of Bolivian origin and president of YPF since its privatization in 1993, was traveling to Ecuador to meet with officials of the U.S. Maxus Energy Corporation, which was recently acquired by YPF.