Saturday, February 2, 2008
Local airline LAB had been operating the chartered passenger flight from La Paz to Cobija on behalf of Transporte Aereo Militar (TAM) when poor weather conditions caused the jet to be diverted. LAB has recently been handling excess passengers for TAM as an unusually severe rainy season has washed away many roads across the nation.
A flight engineer said that during the flight the engines failed due to a mechanical problem. The plane came down in a swampy forest clearing approximately 2 miles (3.3km) from a runway at the new destination of Trinidad, 370 miles from the intended destination. Several passengers were injured in the accident, and all on board were taken to hospitals for checks. One pilot received a clavicle fracture.
The plane was severely damaged, with the New York Times reporting that photographs of the scene showed at least one wing of the aircraft to have separated from the fuselage.
Survivors confirmed this. Paolo Bravo, a Bolivian senator on board the plane, said to local radio network Erbol “We noticed the engines went out, and there was this calm… Then they told us, ‘Crash positions! crash positions!’ and it was just another two or three seconds before we hit… The plane fell, the wings broke off, but the fuselage was OK.”
Experts from the Auxiliary Aerial Navigation Service and an airport commented that it is possible that the soft mus in the area absorbed some of the impact forces, allowing the plane to be salvaged and returned to service. LAB’s operations chief Gustavo Viscarra made a statement saying “The crew members did not suffer any problem and there is no blood… The airplane has minimum damages, there is no structural damage, there was not any fire nor smoke. It was a forced landing planned by the pilot and it was not caused by our enterprise’s negligence nor lack of maintenance of our airplanes.”
Passenger numbers are unclear, with LAB reporting 151 and some media sources saying 155.
An investigation has been launched. It has been established that an undisclosed technical problem prevented the plane from departing for an hour.
Legal and financial difficulties have seen LAB suspend operations for almost a year, but the carrier has recently begun a limited return to charter services.