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Girl Survives Deadly Plane Crash in Panama

January 4, 2008

PANAMA CITY – The 12-year-old U.S. girl who was the lone survivor of a plane crash in a remote mountain region of Panama over Christmas week was released from the hospital Dec. 31,authorities said.

Francesca Lewis had been transferred to a hospital Dec. 26 after being rescued from the site of the crash a day earlier. She was expected to return home to Santa Barbara, California, this week with family members.

Rescue workers had to carry her for hours on a stretcher to a spot where a helicopter could land and then take her to a hospital in the town of David, the capital of the western province of Chiriqui.

The airplane, a Panamanian-registered Cessna 172 with four people on board, disappeared Dec. 23 while flying between Isla Seca, in the Pacific, and Volcan, in Chiriqui.

At the time she was rescued, Lewis was suffering from hypothermia and multiple trauma, but in “general terms” her state of health is good, authorities said.

The bodies of the three who perished in the crash – the Panamanian pilot, Eric Santos; U.S. businessman Michael Klein, 38; and his 12-year-old daughter Thalia, Francesca’s friend – had not yet been recovered by press time, though authorities had begun the process of doing so.

Bad weather has been cited as one of the probable causes of the accident, according to the director of the Civil Aviation Authority, Eustacio Fabrega, although he added that authorities still are unsure of the precise reason for the crash.

“The weather was very bad, which also affected the search by air; that’s why we had to launch the rescue by land with personnel from Sinaproc (National Civil Protection System),” he said.

The director of Sinaproc, Roberto Velasquez, said that the plane was found Dec. 25 by voluntary rescue workers in the Alto del Chiquero sector at a height of 3,500 feet on one of the slopes of the Baru Volcano.

“We found one of the wings in a tree branch and part of the fuselage in another part, which tells us the aircraft broke apart,” Velasquez said, adding that two of the bodies had been incinerated.

The official said the most likely scenario is that Lewis, who was found by rescue workers at a spot several meters from the site of the accident, was ejected from the aircraft when the crash occurred.

 

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