30 years since Azores plane crash
The biggest plane crash in Portugal occurred in Santa Maria, in the Azores, on February 8, 1989, when an Independent Air Boeing 707, with 144 people on board, crashed into Pico Alto. Pico Alto is the highest point, 586.64 metres (1,924.7 ft) on Santa Maria, an island in the eastern group of the Azores.
This Azorean island constituted, in the 1980s, was at the time a mandatory stopping point between the European and American continents.
The plane came from Bergamo, Italy, and was destined for the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean, and was approaching for a technical stopover at Vila do Porto airport in Santa Maria.
Three decades after the tragedy, there are firefighters who still have nightmares about the Boeing 707, as in the case of José Botelho, who arrived at Pico Alto still hopeful of finding life through the debris of the crashing plane.
“It was a macabre scene that we found, the silence was absolute,” recalls the former professional firefighter, who does not forget the bodies he found dismembered and decapitated throughout the area where the crash took place.
The New York Times reported the crash as follows:
An American charter jet carrying Italian vacationers to the Caribbean crashed into a fog-shrouded mountain in the Azores today while trying to land and all 144 people on board were believed killed.
The Boeing 707, with a seven-member American crew, was approaching Santa Maria Airport when it hit Pico Alto and burst into flames, said Afonso Pimentel, a reporter in the Azores for the Portuguese news agency LUSA. The crash took place at 1:30 P.M. local time.
The Portuguese state television said an emergency team that arrived in Santa Maria was told there was no hope of finding survivors on the mountain, which is 1,794 feet high.
”The plane was very low,” said one witness, Manuel Vairos Figueredo, Mayor of Santa Barbara, a fishing village near the airport. ”Everything seemed perfectly normal, then it turned and flew straight into the mountain. There was a tremendous explosion. The plane burst into flames and trees around it caught fire. Nobody could possibly have survived.”
One of the Portuguese civilian aviation officials who arrived to begin an investigation said the weather on Santa Maria, easternmost of the nine islands in the archipelago, had been good enough for the jet to make an emergency landing. Fog Slows Rescue Efforts