Crash plane may not have been serviced

HUGH POPE

Istanbul

PHIL DAVISON

Miami

Doubts were raised yesterday over the maintenance of the Boeing 757 jet liner which crashed into the Atlantic off the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, with claims and counterclaims over who had serviced it.

The events surrounding the crash have raised concerns over standards of small charter airlines, many of which are under intense commercial pressures.

The plane was owned by the Istanbul-based Birgenair and flew under the name of Birgenair's local Turkish-managed partner Alas Nacionales ("National Wings"). All 189 on board are presumed dead after it plunged into the sea, leaving only wreckage and corpses. Muhip Ismen, Chairman of the Board of Birgenair, said that maintenance had been normal and the plane had been well looked after. "It is looked at after every take-off and every landing. In Germany, such transit inspections are done by Condor and Lufthansa," he said.

"Until last year, maintenance was done by LTU, of Germany," said Mr Ismen. "Since then we have trained our own technicians to do light maintenance and have put the main maintenance contract out to tender." Yesterday, LTU denied this. "The plane that crashed was never, ever serviced by LTU in terms of maintenance," said Wolfgang Osinski, an LTU spokesman.

LTU said that they last saw the plane in August 1995. Sources in Germany said that technicians in Munich had "not been impressed" with its condition. The aircraft had sat at Puerto Plata Airport for at least two weeks, apparently for repairs, and was rushed into service at the last minute because there were too few passengers for an originally scheduled, larger Boeing 767.

"The plane that crashed was parked here at least 14 days,'' according to Sergio Pena, airport security chief at Puerto Plata, a favourite tropical destination for German tourists.

Ending discrepancies over the reason for the last-minute switch from a bigger 767 to the 757, Alas's local representative in Puerto Plata, Yapur Duarte, confirmed that the smaller plane had been used because there were far too few people for the 300-seat 767.

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