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LOOTERS HAMPER PROBE OF HONDURAN JET CRASH

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Hundreds of looters and curiosity-seekers overran the wreckage of a Honduran jet crash, hampering efforts to determine the cause of the weekend crash that left 131 dead.

"Everyone trampled everything down," said Barry Trotter, head of a National Transportation Safety Board team investigating the crash.Honduran officials were unfamiliar with the importance of sealing off a plane crash site, Trotter said Sunday.

The TAN-SAHSA Boeing 727-200 crashed on approach early Saturday on the last leg of a flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, with a stop in Managua, Nicaragua. A survivor said the plane shook violently and seemed to plunge just before it crashed in flames into a hillside.

Fifteen of the 146 people aboard, including the pilot, survived.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Terry Kneebone said 15 Americans were on the plane and three survived. Two were transferred to hospitals in the United States, but all three were out of danger, doctors said.

Trotter said the looting would not necessarily cripple the investigation, but that evidence had been obscured.

"There are no ground scars that would show the angle the plane hit at, how it broke up and dissipated energy, how it slid," he said.

The first people to reach the site were peasant farmers, some of whom live in houses only 75 yards away. They helped rescue survivors and rushed them to hospitals in pickup trucks.

Within an hour after the plane crashed at 7:50 a.m. Saturday, the site was overrun by more than 100 people sifting through luggage, clothes and papers.

Soldiers were seen sorting clothing. Children stuffed toys and clothes into bags. One fireman was observed leaving with a suitcase under his overcoat. Wallets and billfolds also disappeared.

Few corpses arrived at the morgue in Tegucigalpa wearing watches.