Workers in Puerto Rico recover last two bodies among 10 killed in crash of U.S. Air Force plane

Sunday, August 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (AP) _ A search team cut into the wreckage of a U.S. Air Force plane Sunday and found the bodies of two servicemen, the last of 10 who died when their plane slammed into a mountainside.

The searchers found the bodies after opening a battered section of the cockpit using a specialized saw and other equipment, officials said.

``We have finished one of the most important missions, which is the recovery of bodies,'' said Lt. Col. Adolfo Menendez, commander of a National Guard unit at the crash site. ``Now begins the investigation.''

The MC-130H special operations plane crashed during a training mission Wednesday night. The bulky plane was flying in rain and fog when it struck Monte Perucho, broke in two and erupted in flames, witnesses said.

The crash left wreckage scattered over the mountainside near Caguas, 20 miles south of San Juan.

About 30 searchers and military investigators were working at the crash site as the two bodies were found Sunday, officials said. The area was closed to reporters.

Meanwhile, a 10-member team from the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., began supervising the investigation Sunday, officials said. An Air Force accident board also was being assembled to rule on the cause, which remained unclear.

Searchers on Friday found the cockpit voice recorder. The plane had no flight data recorder, officials said.

The plane belonged to the Air Force Special Operations Command and was flying from Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in northeastern Puerto Rico to the Borinquen Air Station on the Caribbean island's west coast.

Officials identified seven of the 10 people aboard the aircraft. One was a Kentucky national guardsman on temporary duty in Puerto Rico, five were from Air Force Special Operations in Florida, and one was from the Air Intelligence Agency, also based in Florida.

The accident was the second in two months involving the four-engine Combat Talon II, a special operations variant of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane. The other crashed in June in Afghanistan, killing three.