LIMA, Peru – After two days of rain and fog, rescue helicopters on Saturday spotted the wreckage of a Peruvian airliner that plowed into a mountain with 46 people aboard, including eight children. Officials confirmed there were no survivors and said the recovery effort would be slow.
Pieces of the TANS airliner were scattered over an area 1,300 feet wide and about 1,600 feet below the peak of the mountain, Transportation Minister Javier Reategui said.
"The impact has disintegrated the plane. The passengers as well as the crew members have suffered the same impact," he said.
The plane's fuel exploded after the airliner hit the mountain and rescue teams found only small pieces of metal and body parts, Reategui said.
The 11,550-foot high mountain -- part of the Andes mountain range -- is 10 miles northwest of the town of Chachapoyas, which is situated in Peru's high jungle, about 400 miles north of Lima.
Search crews reached the site hours after a helicopter put them down nearby. They had to get around cliffs and push through knee-deep mud to reach the wreckage, said air force Col. Juan Rodriguez, who is overseeing the operation.
Heavy rains and low clouds hampered efforts to locate the missing TANS Airlines plane, a Fokker 28 twin-engine turbojet, which lost radio contact with the Chachapoyas airport minutes before landing Thursday morning. The flight had originated in Lima.
It was not raining when the plane disappeared but low-hanging clouds covered the mountains near Chachapoyas, meteorologists said, leading to speculation that the plane had slammed into a mountain covered by fog or clouds.
But medical technician Walter Abad and Chachapoyas Mayor Enrique Torres were quoted Saturday by the Lima daily El Comercio as saying they had spoken with villagers near the impact site who reported seeing the plane flying low with one of its engines aflame shortly before hearing an explosion.
David Reina, fire chief of Amazonas region, said a team of firefighters who climbed the mountain late Friday found a path the plane had cut through trees as it smashed into the mountain.
"It is impossible that people are alive. The impact must have been tremendous," he said.
Relatives of passengers, including Jorge Subiate, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash, wept under gray skies Saturday morning after officials confirmed that rescue teams had found the wreckage. Police preparing for their mission laid out dark plastic body bags near a helicopter on a grassy clearing in Lamud, a town near Chachapoyas in which the rescue operation was centered.
Recovery of the victims would be a daunting task, Interior Minister Gino Costa said.
"It's a zone of craggy peaks. The recovery effort is going to be slow and difficult. We understand that it is very cold in the area," he said.
The plane was carrying four crew members as well as 42 passengers.
TANS on Saturday updated its list of foreigners who were on the plane to six people, including two Belgians, a Cuban, two Dutch and a Spaniard. Several of the passengers had Latin names, indicating possible dual citizenship.
Three 12-man squads, with jungle rescue experts, set out Friday into the mountains.
The ground teams where virtually blind without the four available helicopters overhead to guide them and had based their routes on reports from local farmers who said they had heard an explosion or had seen a low flying plane, Police Maj. Medardo Escobedo said.
Chachapoyas, a town of 20,000 people, is located at an altitude of 7,700 feet in a region of rain forest on the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains.
TANS, a state-owned airline, was set up 40 years ago to fly to remote jungle towns that private airlines did not service because the routes were not profitable.
It began offering weekly flights to Chachapoyas in October. The town, which is close to the towering Kuelap ruins popular with tourists, had been without regular air service for years.