Spain mourns young victims of air disaster

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The Independent Online

Spain today announced three days' of national mourning for victims of the Madrid air crash.

Spaniards were shocked and grieving for the large number of children feared lost on Flight JK5022 when it crashed on takeoff in Madrid and burst into flames.

At least twenty-two youngsters — including two babies — were among the 172 people on board. Only three are known to have survived yesterday's crash.

They are a boy aged six with a head injury; an 11-year-old girl with a severely broken femur; and an eight-year-old boy with a broken leg. All were listed in good condition at Madrid hospitals.

A passenger list released by Spanair shows that many on board the Spanair flight were families — mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters — many on their way to a summer holiday in the Canary Islands, a popular Spanish beach resort off the coast of West Africa.

Dr Paco Duque, a psychologist at Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, said the large number of children who died was having a profound effect on the nation.

"It hits the country much harder," he told The Associated Press. "It is much more traumatic when it happens to a child ... because it is against nature. The sense of impotence is much stronger."

The investigation into the crash, which claimed more than 150 lives, continued as it was revealed that the crashed plane's crew reported an air intake gauge overheating before a first attempt at take-off. But it was not immediately clear whether that was a factor in the accident, which killed 153 people, owner Spanair said.

Spanair spokesman Javier Mendoza said an air intake temperature gauge under the cockpit had detected overheating and technicians corrected the problem by turning off the gauge. Mendoza said the device is not on a list of equipment that has to be functional for a plane to take off. He told a news conference that turning off such a device in these circumstances is an accepted procedure.

Spanair says the plane was eventually cleared by company technicians. The plane crashed on its second attempt to take off for the Canary Islands.

Mendoza said the MD-82's two black box recorders have been recovered but one is damaged.

Alvaro Gammicchia, an Iberia pilot who has flown MD-82s for seven years and represents the pilots' union SEPLA, told The Associated Press that even without the valve working "the plane would not fail to the point of causing a tragedy."

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, although it failed to find a buyer.

A cost-saving plan calls for withdrawing older, less fuel-efficient planes including some of its MD-82s, eliminating some routes and laying off a third of its 3,000-member work force.

Hours before the crash, the Spanish pilots union SEPLA said Spanair pilots might go on strike to protest uncertainty over their future. The union statement was withdrawn after the crash.