Fatal Plane Crash Investigated

June 10, 2005

TWO U.S. aviation experts are workingin tandem with Costa Rican CivilAviation officials investigating a planecrash that claimed the lives of five men lastweek. A sixth man on board, U.S. citizenWilliam Slattery, saved his life by parachutingfrom the craft minutes before itplunged into the ocean along the centralPacific coast May 31.Authorities tentatively blame the accidenton severe turbulence, pending an officialreport, which they say may not becompleted for six months to a year.Emergency crews and police mountedan intense search that began in the dawnhours of June 1 (TT, June 3), and endedSaturday morning with the discovery of thetorso of the sixth missing man. Land rescueteams discovered the body at PlayaEsterillos, on the central Pacific coast southof Jacó beach, after it was spotted overheadby a Public Security Ministry plane, accordingto the ministry press office.THE Cessna 206 plane disappearedfrom radar during a skydiving expeditionthat left from La Yolanda airstrip atEsterillos.Eighty Red Cross rescue volunteers,including divers on hand in case they wereneeded, 35 police, at least 12 pilots, fiveplanes, four helicopters, two coastguardpatrol boats, one speedboat, and 21 crewmembers searched around the clock. Theyfocused their efforts on the sea after a fishermansighted the survivor, Slattery, 34(not Slater, 46, as was erroneously reportedlast week), waving for help 12 kilometersoff the coast of Bahía Herradura, 24hours after the accident.The victims are Jean Román, 23, aCosta Rican citizen who grew up in theUnited States; Canadian citizen MiltonBurton, 53, who owned the plane and skydivingcompany that was running the operation;Costa Rican citizen Jorge Meléndez,54, considered a seasoned pilot; U.S. citizenJames Simplicio and Mexican-U.S. citizenEmmanuel Sánchez, whose ages werenot available from Immigration.THE bodies were in various stages ofdecomposition and the final two to be foundwere missing limbs. Forensic scientists andrescue officials identified Simplicio’s,Sánchez’s and Román’s bodies by their tattoos,said Luis del Valle, chief of the pathologysection of the Judicial InvestigationPolice (OIJ). He told The Tico TimesMeléndez’s body was identified by comparingthe spine to a 2001 X-ray of his spine,looking for unique traces of spinal degeneration,and they identified Burton’s body byhis dental record.The only conclusion he said he coulddraw from seeing the bodies is that noexplosion occurred. All the bodies hadimpact lesions that could have been causedby collision with the water either in or outsideof the plane.After his rescue, Slattery told policechief Walter Navarro that he jumped fromthe plane with two others after pilotMeléndez ordered them to abandon theplane because it was going to crash. Thefirst two bodies found were wrapped inparachutes and cords.DOCTORS said Slattery suffered onlyminor injuries in the jump. He was sunburnedand dehydrated after spendingabout 24 hours at sea before his rescue.“Five more minutes and I would notbe here,” Slattery said in a statement tothe press released June 3. He declinedpress interviews.“Thanks to the people who saved mylife and pulled me from the water. I amvery sorry for the families of (those whodied). I wish things were different.“I need time to try to deal with the lossof my friends James Simplicio (Jimmy)and Emmanuel Sánchez (Many),” he saidin the statement.Slattery’s brother, Jim Slattery, toldThe Tico Times in an e-mail message thatthis was not the first time William had surviveda threat to his life.“I’d say he has nine lives, but he’d haverun out long ago,” Jim Slattery said.THE cost of the search-and-rescueoperations surpassed ¢16 million($34,000). The Red Cross reported anoperation cost of ¢2.5 million ($5,300)while the Public Security Ministry, whichincludes the Coast Guard, reported a costof nearly ¢14 million ($30,000).The ill-fated airplane had all its paperworkin order, including annual inspectioncertificates, said Civil Aviation directorRodolfo Cruz. Authorities are analyzingthe role of inclement weather in the accident,Cruz said, but other factors have notbeen ruled out.Two U.S. experts, a Cessna officialand an official from the plane’s enginemaker, Continental, are studying piecesof recovered wreckage. Cruz said enoughof the fuselage has been found to beginstudies, and a search is still under way formore parts.

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