FIVE VANUATU AIR CRASH SURVIVORS MAKE IT TO SHORE

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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (May 10, 1999 - Radio Australia/PACNEWS)---One of the five survivors of a plane crash in the ocean off Vanuatu Saturday, Australian Neil Watts, said it is unlikely the others who escaped from the aircraft, have survived.

Five men swam for six hours to get to shore after the VanAir twin engine plane with 12 people on board crashed near Port Vila.

The survivors, in addition to Watts of the Seventh Day Adventist Church based in Honiara, Solomon Islands are Australians Tim Hurford and Dr. Nicole Leeks, a Swedish journalist and a ni-Vanuatu man.

The group, with only one life jacket among them, eventually landed on shore at Paradise Cove near Port Vila.

Watts said it is unlikely the others survived. "We were very tired, very cold, shivering. We were cramping, but we were just so excited and ecstatic to reach the shore.

"It was hard going," he said. "We were taking a lot of water. Our tongues and mouths were just swollen with salt and the water."

A reporter from the Vanuatu Trading Post, Mark Neil-Jones, said the pilot, co-pilot and two passengers are thought to have remained trapped in the plane, while three other people are still missing.

The missing include four ni-Vanuatu, two French nationals (including the pilot), and a British national.

A Vanuatu Government statement said the Twin Otter aircraft of Vanuatu’s domestic carrier had taken off from the island of Espiritu Santo in driving rain and crashed while making a landing approach at Port Vila’s Bauerfield Airport.

The statement said the aircraft ditched into the waters of Mele Bay in poor weather conditions.

The search for the missing passengers, involving six ships, a helicopter and VanAir planes, is being coordinated by a police headquarters emergency operations center in Port Vila. A New Caledonian-based Guardian reconnaissance plane also has joined the search.

Vanuatu’s Council of Ministers held an emergency meeting Sunday morning and asked development partners, France, Australia and New Zealand, to assist with rescue operations

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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