LIMA, Peru – Heavy rains early Friday grounded helicopters searching for an airliner carrying 46 people that disappeared into Peru's lush mountain jungle minutes before landing.
"The weather has complicated our search and rescue efforts," Vice President Raul Diez Canseco said Thursday evening, referring to heavy seasonal rains that grounded three helicopters.
TANS Airline flight 222 was three minutes from landing at an airport in Chachapoyas Thursday when radio contact was lost with the plane at 8:43 a.m., TANS spokesman Jorge Belevan said.
Chachapoyas, a city of 18,000 people, is located in cloud forest mountains 400 miles north of Lima.
"Up to this point, we have no information about the plane or any possible survivors," Luyo mayor Horacio Baella said Thursday. The town of Luyo is 10 miles northwest of Chachapoyas, near the suspected crash site.
Belevan said the passengers included eight children — one of them a baby — and a Belgian husband and wife, Christophe Dubois and Sofia Porfirio.
John Elio, president of an association of Peruvian pilots, said an emergency landing in the Chachapoyas area was virtually impossible because of the mountainous terrain.
The plane was a Fokker 28 rented from Peru's air force by TANS. Belevan said the twin-engine was built in 1965 and could carry up to 62 passengers.
Belevan initially said that flying conditions were good Thursday morning but noted that the weather in the jungle could change abruptly.
Meteorologist Abraham Levy said it was not raining when the plane disappeared, but that low-hanging clouds draped the mountains near Chachapoyas on Thursday morning.
Meteorologists predicted more heavy downpours Friday.
The plane flew Thursday morning from Lima with 38 passengers and a four-member crew to the coastal city of Chiclayo, 410 miles northwest of the capital. There it picked up four more passengers before continuing on to Chachapoyas, TANS spokesman Lizandro Toro said.
TANS began offering weekly flights to Chachapoyas, which is close to the towering Kuelap ruins popular with tourists, in October. The city had been without regular air service for years.
The 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.
The harsh terrain, thick vegetation and heavy rain of Peru's mountainous jungles often delay search efforts for lost planes. In 1987 it took rescuers 10 days to find a plane carrying 46 people that went down outside of the jungle city of Saposoa, 350 miles north of Lima.