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Crewmembers from U.S. survive cargo jet crash in Colombia

By Sibylla Brodzinsky and Ina Paiva Cordle

McClatchy Newspapers

BOGOTA, Colombia — Three South Florida crewmen survived a Miami-bound cargo jet crash outside the Colombian capital early Monday that killed two people on the ground and injured five others onboard.

The crew of the Boeing 747-200 Kalitta Air jet reported a fire in one the plane’s turbines just two minutes after taking off from Bogota’s El Dorado Airport at 3:50 a.m, said Martin Gonzalez, spokesman for Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority.

As they turned back toward the runway, the plane crashed into a wide grassy field near the town of Madrid and plowed into a small wooden home where two people — Pedro and Edwin Suarez — were killed. A third person who was sleeping in the house was treated for serious injuries in a nearby hospital.

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Hours after the crash, television images showed the still smoldering debris, which was spread out over a one-kilometer wide radius. The nose of the aircraft with the first two letters of the name Kalitta still visible lay upside down. Nearby, lay the twisted remains of one of the turbines and the wheels of the aircraft.

Civil aviation authorities said they had found the plane’s black box and that it would be analyzed to determine the cause of the crash. The aircraft was believed to have fallen from an altitude of only 1,500 meters, Gonzalez said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that it was sending a team of investigators to assist the government of Colombia in its investigation.

The crew members were identified by Ypsilanti, Mich.-based Kalitta as U.S. citizens Joseph Kendall, 59, Valrico, Fla; Steve Szynkowski, 28, McDonough, Ga.; Richard Dunlap, 65, Marietta, Ga.; Mohamed Shah, Coral Springs, Fla., 30; Bryant Beebe, 51, Big Pine Key, Fla.; Ivan Dankha, 49, Surprise, Ariz.; and Frank Holley, 45, Milton, Fla., as well as Dominican national Jimmy Herrera, 45, Miami.

Kendall suffered serious head wounds and internal injuries and underwent surgery, according to Nader Lujan the director of the Police hospital where six of the crew members were taken. Szynkowski apparently suffered serious injury to the spine, he said. Dankha and Holley were treated for minor injuries at a hospital close to the crash site and were expected to be released.

Local farmers rushed to the site as soon as the plane went down but could not get close enough to help the injured because of the roaring flames, farmer Heli Dussan told the Colombian television network Caracol.

The Colombian Air Force responded to the crash and pulled the crew members from the mangled remains of the cockpit before dawn. Air Force nurse Laura Maria Linares told Caracol that she crawled into the cockpit through one of the windows and first attended Kendall, who was in serious condition but conscious.

Kalitta was operating the plane for Miami-based Centurion Air Cargo. Centurion has an annual contract with Kalitta to lease an aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance, and Kalitta usually flies daily to Latin America for Centurion, said Kalitta Vice President Pete Sanderlin.

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"We have eight of our own planes but sometimes there is more cargo than space available for the company, so what we do is have a contract with Kalitta," said Ezequil Ferrario, Centurion’s marketing manager.

The majority of the freight on board were flowers from Colombia from Centurion’s customers, he said.

Kalitta is responsible for insuring the plane and its freight, Sanderlin said.

Another Kalitta-operated Boeing 747 crashed and broke apart in Brussels, Belgium, on May 25 while pilots tried to abort a takeoff, according to U.S. and Belgian authorities. All five crewmembers survived, though four were slightly injured.

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