LIMA, PERU, DEC. 9 -- A Navy plane carrying Peru's top soccer team crashed into the ocean off a Lima beach and only one of the 43 people aboard was known to have survived, the Navy said today.
A spokesman said the pilot, 1st Lt. Edilberto Villar, escaped when the Fokker F27 crashed and split apart last night. He floated in choppy seas for hours with such survival techniques as drawing air into his clothes to make them buoyant, the spokesman said. Villar was being treated at a Navy hospital for shock and minor injuries.
Rescuers had found 12 bodies after the plane crashed after having trouble with its landing gear and circling the Lima airport for two hours, the spokesman said.
Aboard the twin-turboprop F27, owned by the Navy and chartered by the Alianza Lima professional soccer team, were coach Marcos Calderon and 16 players, 8 male cheerleaders, 12 team employes and 6 crew members, according to a Navy statement. The only woman aboard was a stewardess.
Frogmen using sonar tried to locate the fuselage and nose of the aircraft, which sank in about 120 feet of water and was believed to contain most of the bodies. The tail section was found floating. Tonight, the search was postponed until Thursday because of bad weather.
The F27, which can carry 50 passengers, was returning to the capital from a game in Pucallpa, a jungle city 355 miles to the northeast. Alianza had defeated Deportiva Pucallpa, 1-0, to gain first place in Peru's soccer league.
"None of the players stayed in Pucallpa. All of them were on the plane," club President Agustin Merino told a news conference.
Freddy Pimentel, director of the control tower, said the plane was scheduled to land at 8:10 p.m. The Navy said the flight was declared an emergency five minutes later because of problems with the plane's landing gear.
Channel 5 television, Peru's most authoritative news station, said the plane lost contact with the control tower at 10:30 p.m. after making three passes over the airport.
"The plane flew around the airport trying to land but the landing gear would not come down," said the Navy press officer.
Marco Gonzalez, manager of the state-run airport administration company Corpac, said the indicator lights on the plane's control panel were not working and that the pilot could not tell whether the landing gear was in place.
Gonzalez said in a radio interview that the F27 made a low pass over the airport and the tower informed the pilot his gear was in place: "He said he was going to swing around to land, and then it was lost."