Working among sharks and floating debris, rescuers in inflatable rafts pulled more than 100 bodies from the deep waters of the Atlantic on Wednesday after a chartered jet loaded with German tourists crashed with 189 people aboard.
There were no signs of survivors, and the cause of the crash was unknown.
The Boeing 757 was carrying the tourists home from the Caribbean on Tuesday night when it crashed about 12 miles northeast of this oceanside resort.
The German tour operator said the Dominican airline, Alas Transporte de Internacional, was responsible, having leased the aircraft from a Turkish company, Birgenair. But Gen. Hector Roman, director of the country’s civil aviation agency, said Alas was not responsible because it did not own the plane. An air and sea search by the U.S.
Coast Guard and Dominican military on Wednesday turned up only debris from the aircraft.
At least 105 bodies were recovered,
U.S. officials said. A Dominican civil defense official, Domingo Antonio Vargas, said late Wednesday as many as 126 bodies had been found.
The air search was suspended at nightfall and was to resume today, although a Coast Guard cutter continued patrolling the crash site, said Petty Officer James Elliott in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Boeing spokesman Dick Kenny said the plane - the second Boeing 757 ever to crash - was built in 1985. An American Airlines Boeing 757 crashed Dec. 20 as it approached Cali, Colombia, killing 160 people.
Flight 301, operated by Alas, took off from the Puerto Plata International Airport about 11:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m. PST) Tuesday in a light rain. It reached an altitude of 7,000 feet and appeared on radar screens to veer right, as if turning back, before going down, Dominican officials said.
Gen. Hector Roman, director of the country’s civil aviation agency, said the pilot radioed that he was returning to Puerto Plata, and the last message from the crew was “Stand by.”
Roman’s account, however, was disputed by an air traffic controller on duty in the tower Wednesday and by Maj. Alan Arias Batlle, a member of a committee assigned by the country’s Civil Aeronautics Office to investigate the crash.
“He just called in to air traffic controllers his position and then the aircraft disappeared from the screen,” said the controller, who refused to give his name.
“All the communication was normal,” Arias Batlle said. “In no moment did they speak of an emergency.”
Bound for Frankfurt and Berlin, the Birgenair plane was chosen at the last minute to replace a Boeing 767 owned by Alas which developed mechanical trouble, Dominican officials said.
The plane carried 176 passengers, including four children, and 13 crew members. Most of the passengers were German tourists, while 11 crew members were Turkish and two were Dominican. Polish radio reported that two members of the Polish parliament were on the passenger list.