An Argentine passenger plane crashed on takeoff from Buenos Aires' city airport tonight and burst into flames, killing at least 70 people, Argentine aviation authorities said. More than 30 others were wounded.
The LAPA airlines 737, carrying 98 passengers from Jorge Newberry airport to the interior city of Cordoba, rose only slightly in the air before it skidded off the runway, broke through a protective perimeter wall, ran across a highway and burst into flames near a golf course. Several people on the highway were reportedly killed as the plane hit cars and dragged them off the road.
Dozens of rescue workers and firefighters worked into the night to extinguish the fire and search for survivors and bodies. More than 60 ambulances responded to the crash site in the upscale Costanera Norte area of the city.
There was no immediate word on what caused the accident, which is certain to rank among the deadliest civil aviation crashes in Argentine history. According to local television reports, the plane was manufactured by Boeing in 1970 and acquired in 1996 by LAPA (Lineas Aereas Privadas Argentinas). LAPA is the country's second largest airline and recently began service to the United States.
"The plane had hardly taken off, it was flying very, very low, and it pushed cars off the highway," witness Cristina Abraham told Argentina's Channel 13. "When it fell, it immediately exploded. We saw a high flames, and it felt like an atomic bomb went off. We could all feel the heat."
Passenger Fabian Nunez told reporters the plane "rose half a meter into the air, then all I heard was silence. . . . I saw people on fire. I was able to save myself [by escaping] through the rear of the plane."
The crash occurred at 8:55 p.m. (7:55 p.m. EDT). Nunez said the flight was delayed because technicians had been checking one of the plane's turbines.