Grieving families learn the bitter truth

ERIK KIRSCHBAUM

Reuter

Berlin - Relatives and friends of holidaymakers feared to have been killed when a Boeing 757 crashed off the Dominican Republic waited in anguish yesterday at Berlin's Schoenefeld airport.

Some were in tears as they fought past a pack of journalists, photographers and television camera crews clicking, flashing and firing questions at them. All had one question on their minds: "Did anyone survive the crash?" One man, aged about 45, sobbing and with tears running down his face, failed to struggle past the journalists and bolted off upstairs to hide away in an office.

."Most people already know when they get here. I've never seen anything so horrible as this in my whole life. That you (journalists) are stopping them from getting by makes me mad," said Marianne Bartel, working at the information desk. "You are standing around just like a bunch of vultures."

The plane, which came down shortly after take-off from Puerto Plata airport on Tuesday night was carrying 176 passengers - most of them Germans - and 13 crew members, Kurt Uegers, a manager at the flight's operator Oeger Tours said.

It was bound for Frankfurt via Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, a Frankfurt airport spokesman said. Eighty-eight passengers were bound for Berlin, including 44 men, 42 women and two children, and a further 88 were headed for Frankfurt, including 53 men, 33 women and two children. The 13 crew were mainly Turkish.

A man, aged about 40, was besieged by journalists as he arrived to meet his girlfriend off the flight in Berlin. He clearly had not heard the news: "Why are you asking me all these questions?", he said and turned away looking shattered.

There were similar scenes at Frankfurt airport, where airport staff were ushering people believed to be friends and relatives into a lounge before journalists descended upon them. There they were informed about their relatives and given the option of counselling by a team of doctors, priests and psychologists.

One man at Frankfurt airport said he had come to meet four people off the plane. "I've known one of them for 20 years. He had a wife and four children." said Peter Goschuetz, looking composed, but speaking in a shaky voice. "I just hope something happened to stop them boarding that plane."

Frankfurt airport and the foreign ministry set up telephone hotlines for inquiries about passengers on the flight. Oeger Tours, which issued a passenger list to news organisations, said it had chartered half the seats on the plane. It issued its condolences to relatives in a statement.

The charter plane had been due to arrive at Berlin's Schoenefeld airport at 1410 local time (1310 GMT) on Wednesday and was then to fly on to Frankfurt airport, where it had been due to arrive at 1645 local time (1345 GMT). The plane took off from Puerto Plata airport on the north coast of the Dominican Republic one hour late, Oeger manager Kurt Uebachs said.

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