Flight 801 from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, was coming into land at Agana International airport when, three miles out, the pilot lost contact with the control tower. A White House source said the pilot had radioed the tower, declared an in-flight emergency "and mentioned there was a fire on board". At 2.35am local time (5.35pm BST) it crashed in dense jungle. It was raining heavily and visibility was said to be down to one mile.
Rescuers using flashlights fought through half a mile of mud and razor- sharp saw grass up to 8ft feet high to reach the wreckage. Two Navy CH- 46 Sea Knight helicopters, with pilots wearing night-vision goggles, took at least 30 survivors to a hospital.
With the jet still smoldering, Navy construction crews moved in to crack open the fuselage and try to rescue anyone who might still be alive.
Navy officials said 33 survivors had been rescued and there was little chance of finding any others. But in Seoul, a Cabinet official said about 50 people had survived.
The Governor of the tiny island, Carl Gutierrez, said: "I heard screams from every corner of the darkness. Conditions are extremely difficult. You slip at every step and the choppers can't land except maybe about 200 yards away."
He said bulldozers were being brought in to carve a road out so that more emergency vehicles could be brought in. "The tail section [of the aircraft] is still intact. The engines are laying around it. The mid section is completely burned out. The front end broke off on the other side of the hill."
Mr Gutierrez and his wife rushed to the scene and helped pull survivors out of the wreckage, including an 11-year-old Japanese girl who begged him to rescue her mother. He was unable to save the woman because of the flames.
"There was a big ball of fire just before the crash," said Rudy Delos- Santos, a reporter at a local radio station who lives near the site of the crash. "The plane ploughed through the jungle for a minute or so before it came to a rest."
In Seoul, the airline said the plane was carrying 231 passengers, and 23 crew. Most of the passengers were Korean tourists and honeymooners, but the list was also said to include 11 US citizens, at least one of whom was known to have survived, and six children. Officials said Shin Ki-ha, a former leader in South Korea of the main opposition National Congress for New Politics, his wife and about 20 party members were on the flight.
Four people were being treated at the US Naval Hospital, where all 300 employees were summoned and on alert, said a hospital spokesman.
About 400 Navy personnel rushed to the Navy hospital to help provide emergency care, including surgery. An airport spokesman said the plane caught fire after rupturing an oil pipeline on the ground.
The US National Transportation Safety Board launched an immediate investigation into the crash. Jim Hall, the chairman, said investigators would be looking in in particular at a vital piece of airport safety equipment that was not in service for the landing.
He said officials on Guam had confirmed that the airport's glide slope, a device used for instrument landing during poor visibility had been out of service for some time. But he added that instrument landings could also be made without the glide slope.
According to Federal Aviation Authority sources, the guidance system was due to be repaired on September 12.
Boeing last night sent a team of specialists to the crash site. The largest of the Marianas, east of the Philippines, Guam is one of the most important strategic bases abroad for the US military.
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