Crash Survivor Describes Terror Of Final Seconds -- French Jet Hits Mountain, Killing 87

MONT SAINTE-ODILE, France - Two of the nine known survivors of a French jetliner's crash into a snowy ridge described a terrifying 10 to 15 seconds of plowing through trees, then a four-hour wait in 20-degree cold.

Eighty-seven people were feared dead in last night's crash. The twin-engine Air Inter Airbus A320 jet, carrying 96 people on a flight from Lyon, crashed in snow and fog about 7:30 p.m. while on landing approach to Strasbourg.

Survivors carried down the snow-covered mountainside on stretchers included a 13-month-old girl who was unscathed and a 9-year-old boy.

Rescuers today recovered both of the plane's black boxes, which contain information about the flight's final moments. Experts hoped the recordings of flight data and cockpit voices would shed light on what went wrong. No distress signal was sent before the plane crashed.

More than 1,000 rescuers searched the area today, but officials held out little hope any other survivors would be found.

Rescuers said most or all of the survivors were seated in the plane's rear.

"We were ready to land, we had on our seat belts, and then I realized we had hit something," a survivor, Pierre Cota, told the French radio network France Info.

"We fell into the forest and were brought to a stop by the trees," said Cota, 45. "There was a lot of noise, and flames. I grabbed the boy next to me, and went out through a hole in the plane into the snow.

"The roof and ceiling were gone. We kept warm by the fires that were going."

Cota said pieces of the plane continued to explode for about an hour.

"We heard some moaning, people calling for help, but we couldn't locate them," he said. Around midnight, when he went looking for some blankets, two villagers with flashlights appeared.

Another survivor, Nicolas Skourias, 26, said he managed to pull a few other people out of the plane with him.

"It happened very fast," he said. "We were hitting things for about 10 or 15 seconds. We went several hundred meters, careening left and right, forward and backward."

Skourias described a wait of more than four hours for rescuers.

Two of those who survived were critically injured.

The injured were taken to a makeshift medical center before being transferred to hospitals in Strasbourg and Obernai.

The plane went down near Mont Sainte-Odile, a 2,500-feet peak in the Vosges mountains 30 miles southwest of Strasbourg near the German border.

Air Inter said it did not know what caused the crash.

The plane, put into service in December 1988, had no record of mechanical trouble in 6,312 hours of flying time. It had been checked earlier yesterday, the airline said.

The pilot, Christian Hecquet, 42, had flown for more than 9,000 hours, Air Inter President Jean-Cyril Spinetta said. It was not known if Hecquet was among the survivors.

The Syndicate of Navigation Personnel, a national union, issued a statement questioning the efficiency of the guidance system aboard the A320s.

It was the third A320 to crash since the aircraft began service in April 1988.

The A320 is the only commercial aircraft that uses computers capable of operating all flight controls.