Helis, February 21, 2000 - TUPUNGATO, Mendoza, Argentina - Army specialists worked Monday at the site of a 1947 plane crash high in the Andes Mountains, hoping to bring down pieces of the plane and remains of passengers missing for decades.
Investigators were racing to do as much recovery work as possible before an expected onslaught of bad weather at midweek on the 6659 m (21,848 feet) Tupungato volcano, said Maj. Alberto Quinones, an army spokesman.
Mountaineers stumbled upon the wreckage last month. Its disappearance had been one of the longest-running aviation mysteries in the Andes, the mountain range that was a virtual graveyard for planes during the first half of the century. Investigators now hope that a study of the wreckage will help solve the lingering mystery surrounding the cause of the disaster.
``An advance team of 12 men have gone up to mark the area where pieces of the plane were found,'' Quinones told The Associated Press.
Luis Estrella, an air force official on the team, said authorities were studying whether the plane flew into the face of the towering volcano during a snowstorm on Aug. 2, 1947.
Argentine Air force Lama helicopters took advantage of fair weather on Sunday to fly over a rocky field high on the volcano where the wreckage was found, Argentine news reports said. The air force had no immediate comment on the reports that at least one helicopter briefly landed in the wreckage field, about 5029 m (16,500 feet) up the volcano.
On Monday, army soldiers escorting journalists remained at Tres Quebradas, at 2048 m (8,100 feet), hoping to ascend Tuesday by mule to a base camp supplying investigators at the site.
The passengers included three Britons, a German woman, a Palestinian and a Swiss man.
Following the crash, search teams from England, Chile and Argentina searched the area by air and on skis but turned up nothing.
Theories abounded about the plane's disappearance. Some speculated it had been sabotaged to kill a British diplomatic messenger reportedly on board.
But many believed severe weather was the cause. Records indicate heavy snow fell for three days at the time the plane vanished, and aviation experts said the plane - a converted World War II Lancaster bomber - did not have deicing capabilities and was unfit to travel through frigid conditions.
The plane went undetected for more than five decades.
In January, five mountaineers climbing through ice fields atop Tupungato, just east of the Argentine-Chilean border, came across the remains of the four-engine plane.
Quinones said the remains of at least three passengers also had been spotted - their limbs preserved in year-round subfreezing temperatures atop Tupungato.
Authorities quickly arranged the recovery mission before the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer and the onset of harsh weather on Tupungato.