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25 bodies identified from plane crash in Spain
Spain
The tail of the Spanair jet that crashed on take off at Madrid airport is seen on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008. A Spanair airliner bound for the Canary Islands at the height of the vacation season crashed, burned and broke into pieces Wednesday while trying to take off from Madrid, killing 149 people on board, officials said. There were only 26 survivors in the mid-afternoon crash, said Spanish Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez, whose department is in charge of civil aviation. It was Spain's most deadly air disaster in more than 20 years. - photo by Associated Press
    MADRID, Spain — The jetliner that crashed in Madrid abandoned a first takeoff attempt because of an air gauge that showed overheating, but experts said it was unlikely the gauge was a factor in the accident that killed 153 people.
    As investigators began trying to piece together the plane’s final moments, relatives of victims went to a makeshift morgue to identify their loved ones. Only 25 of the dead had been identified a day after Wednesday’s crash.
    Nineteen people survived the crash of the Spanair MD-82 flight to the Canary Islands, Spain’s worst air disaster in 25 years. Twenty-two children and infants were listed as passengers; only three made it through the crash. The children were in stable condition with mostly minor injuries.
    There were amazing stories of sheer good luck.
    One Spanish couple was three minutes late checking in and missed the flight. Ertoma Bolanos said he learned of the crash when the family of his girlfriend Almudena called to say they had seen TV footage of it.
    ‘‘We had no idea what had happened,’’ he told the newspaper La Vanguardia. ‘‘My mouth dropped open.’’
    Spanair spokesman Javier Mendoza said an air intake gauge under the cockpit had detected overheating while the jetliner was taxiing for takeoff and technicians corrected the problem by essentially turning off the gauge. Mendoza said the device is not on a list of equipment that has to be functional for a plane to depart. He said turning off such a device is an accepted procedure.
    Spanair says the plane was eventually cleared by technicians. It crashed on its second attempt to take off, burning and breaking into pieces.
    Mendoza said the plane’s two black box recorders have been recovered and that one was damaged.
    Two experts interviewed by The Associated Press said the gauge problem was unlikely to have caused the crash.
    Alvaro Gammicchia, an Iberia pilot who has flown MD-82’s for seven years and represents the pilots union SEPLA, said that even without the gauge ‘‘the plane would not fail to the point of causing a tragedy.’’
    The MD-80 series aircraft have a number of static ports or pitot tubes located near the nose of the aircraft. They have different functions, but mostly provide data on air speed, air pressure and outside temperature. Probes for the engine parameters are located around the engines themselves.
    ‘‘Most likely, whatever the malfunction of the probe was, it is probably not related to what happened,’’ Patrick Smith, a U.S.-based MD-80 pilot and aviation author said by telephone.
    The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that one of the two engines failed and may have caught fire during takeoff. La Vanguardia said witnesses saw the plane’s left engine explode and catch fire before the aircraft went down.
    Spanair has not released a complete list of the nationalities of those on board. In a provisional report it said Thursday they included one person from Turkey, two from Sweden, four from Indonesia and six from Germany. Seventy-nine lived in the Canary Islands but were not necessarily Spanish, the company said.
    Spain began three days of mourning for those who died. Flags in Madrid flew at half-staff and silent vigils were held at noon around the country. The king and queen visited the makeshift morgue where the bodies were taken after the crash.
    Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez said 25 bodies have been identified. She said the process could take several days because many bodies were burned beyond recognition and forensic teams are using DNA to help make identifications.
    Some mourners spent the night at the morgue. The morgue was set up at Madrid’s main convention center — the same facility used for bodies after the March 11, 2004 Islamic terror attacks that killed 191 people on Madrid commuter trains.
    Spanair is Spain’s second largest airline, after Iberia. It is a money-loser, though, and owner SAS put it up for sale more than a year ago but failed to find a buyer. Spanair reported losses of euro55 million ($81 million) in the first half of this year.
    The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it will send investigators to assist in the inquiry.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Harold Heckle and Jorge Sainz in Madrid and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.