Thursday, January 23, 2014

Romania premier fires official over plane rescue

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) Responding to public anger over the delayed response to a plane crash, Romania's prime minister dismissed a senior Interior Ministry official Wednesday while the heads of the country's air traffic control and emergency services resigned.

It took hours for rescuers to locate the plane, which crashed on a mountain Monday, and two people died while waiting for medical assistance. Hypothermia was among the causes of death.

The small British plane, which was 35 years old, was transporting medics from Bucharest to western Romania to harvest organs for transplant when it came down. None of the doctors who were on board the flight has said, however, that the delay caused the two deaths.

Deep snow, dense fog and darkness hampered the search for the plane, which crashed at 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above sea level, after it lost altitude in heavy fog on a remote mountain. Residents located the stricken plane 4 hours after it crashed, but medical teams arrived much later, provoking public anger.

Romania's private television stations have tapped into public anger since the crash, with some people calling authorities incompetent and demanding resignations. Officials have said that they didn't have up-to-date equipment, but there has been criticism that Radu Zamfir, the least injured of the survivors, called the emergency services six times.

The passengers were all medics and administered first aid to the pilot and the medical student who later died.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta said there were "inacceptable deficiencies" in the rescue operation. He fired an interior ministry state secretary and called for the air traffic control chief and the head of the elite communications service not under his authority to be removed. Air traffic control chief Aleodor Francu later resigned.

The head of the emergency services also resigned Wednesday after Ponta said the rescue operation was "unacceptably slow, nobody assumed authority and responsibility, and Monday's intervention was a failure."

All seven on board initially survived the landing. The 54-year-old pilot, with 16,000 flying hours, died from hypothermia and multiple injuries, according to an autopsy. A 23-year-old medical student on the plane died of hypothermia and breathing difficulties.

Gheorghe Trif who arrived first at the scene with two other villagers told Mediafax news agency that a mountain rescue team were the first officials to reach the stricken aircraft, but were poorly equipped and didn't have stretchers for the injured passengers most of whom had fractures.

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