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767 cargo jet crashes into bay near Houston; 3 presumed dead

By Allen Cone and Sam Howard
767 cargo jet crashes into bay near Houston; 3 presumed dead
An Atlas Air cargo jet, similar to the one pictured here, has crashed into Trinity Bay near Houston, the FAA said Saturday. Photo courtesy Atlas Air

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- A Boeing 767 cargo jet, operating for Amazon Prime Air, crashed into Trinity Bay near Houston on Saturday afternoon, with all three onboard presumed dead, officials said.

It was the first time since 1999 a 767, which went into service 37 years ago, has crashed in the United States, not including two planes that were hijacked and hit the World Trade Center in 2001.

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Atlas Air Flight 3591 went down at about 12:45 p.m. about 30 miles southeast of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

One body has been recovered.

"We're just confirming remains," Chambers County Sheriff Brian C. Hawthorne said, according to KHOU-TV. "What I will tell you is I don't believe that there is any way that anybody could have survived. We're still trying to let the NTSB identify how many pilots and passengers were actually in the airplane."

He said "it looks like total devastation from the aircraft part," according to KPRC-TV. Debris included women's clothing, bed sheets, carboard boxes, he said.

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Atlas Air, with headquarters in Puchase, N.Y., confirmed three people were aboard the Boeing 767-300 jet.

"Those people and their family members are our top priority at this time," the company said in a statement.

The aircraft took off from Miami International Airport, the FAA said, and crashed into Jack's Pocket, the north end of Trinity Bay. During the past 24 hours, the plane also flew from Hawaii to California to Miami.

The 26-year-old plane was operating for Amazon Prime Air, one of 30 767's in Amazon's fleet, based on the tail number.

"I saw a plane going straight down and I told my mom and I told my mom, 'There's a plane going down and it's going to crash,'" Jose Chavez,who said he was in the car with his mother, told KHOU-TV.

Hawthorne said witnesses told authorities they heard what sounded like lightning before the plane went down. It went into a nose dive, then into the water nose-first, according to witnesses,

The sheriff said it took about 20 to 30 minutes for the first responders to arrive because of the location. The depth of the water where the plane crashed is up to 5 feet.

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The FAA issued an alert status after losing radar and radio contact with the plane.

National Transportation Safety Board and FAA investigators were sent to the scene.

Dive teams are searching for the black box.

FBI Houston said it is assisting other agencies, including the Coast Guard, Houston police, the Chambers County Fire Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Department of Public Safety and Baytown police.

The 767, which has a payload of 115,700 pounds and a range of 3,255 miles, is used by Federal Express, UPS, DHL, according to Boeing.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the flight crew, their families and friends along with the entire team at Atlas Air during this terrible tragedy," Dave Clark, Amazon's senior vice president of worldwide operations at Amazon, said in a statement to KHOU-TV.

An Airbus A300 jet operated by UPS was the last major cargo plane to crash in the United States in August 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal. It went down short of the runway in Birmingham, Ala., killing the two pilots.

The original 767-200 entered service in 1982. Other versions are the 767-200ER, 767-300, 767-300ER and the 767-400ER. Configured as a passenger plane, the 767 can carry from 200 to 300-plus passengers, according to Boeing.

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Previously, the Boeing 767 had three fatal non-hijackng crashes, killing 806 people, according to AirSafe.com.

On May 26, 1991, 223 aboard Lauda Air Flight 004 died when it crashed near Bangkok, Thailand, on May 26, 1991. The in-flight left engine thrust reverser deployed.

On October 31, 1999, all 217 people on board EgyptAir Flight 990, a 767-300ER, crashed off Nantucket Island, Mass., in international water. The NTSB determined the probable cause to be due to a deliberate action by the first officer.

On April 15, 2002, 129 of 166 people aboard Air China Flight 129, a 767-200ER, died when it crashed into a hill amid inclement weather while trying to land at Gimhae International Airport in Busan, South Korea. The cause was attributed to pilot error.

It has been 10 years since the last fatalities in a crash of a passenger airline. Colgan Air Flight 3407, crashed on approach to Buffalo, N.Y., on Feb. 12, 2009, with 49 people on board and a man on the ground killed.

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