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Wreckage of jetliner is found near volcano

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IPIALES, Colombia — Search teams found the wreckage of an Ecuadorean airliner that crashed with 92 people on board near a volcano in southern Colombia on Tuesday, an Ecuadorean official said.

Minister of Government Marcelo Merlo, speaking to reporters in Ecuador's capital, Quito, did not say whether there were any survivors.

The TAME airlines Boeing 727-100 — which vanished Monday morning over the Andes — was found near Chiles Volcano, in southern Colombia near the Ecuadorean border.

There was no immediate confirmation from Colombian officials.

Merlo said it would take at least two hours for rescuers to reach the remote site.

Rescue teams from both nations have been searching from the air and by land for the jetliner — focusing on the Chiles Volcano and the nearby Nevado de Cumbal volcano.

Witnesses reported hearing a plane flying through the clouds on Monday and then an explosion in the area.

"We felt as though it was flying low, but we couldn't see it because the sky was full of clouds," said Javier Escruceria, a farmer who lives four hours by horseback from Cumbal village, in the shadow of Nevado de Cumbal. "It seemed like it had gone down behind the mountain."

Conditions were foggy Monday when the TAME flight, coming from the capital, Quito, looped over the Colombian town of Ipiales on its final approach to its destination — the tiny airport in the nearby Ecuadorean border city of Tulcan.

The flight lost radio contact at 10:23 a.m. It was carrying 83 passengers, including seven children, and nine crew members, TAME said. The airline's flight path would have taken it near the 15,668-foot Chiles Volcano and 15,721-foot Nevado de Cumbal.

After stopping in Tulcan, the flight was to have continued to Cali, Colombia's third-largest city. At the city's airport, distressed relatives awaited news of their loved ones.

"Everyone tells us something different . . . but no one knows anything," Adriana Cano said. She said her sister and brother-in-law were passengers.

Three rescue planes and a helicopter combed the area near Ipiales until nightfall Monday but could find no traces of a crash.

Clouds persisted Tuesday and delayed the resumption of the search. At midmorning, a search flight took off from Ecuador, entering Colombia as the crew peered through breaking clouds. In Cumbal, firefighters drove up a misty road into the mountains to try to locate the crash.

A spokeswoman for the Colombian air force, Maj. Angela Rodriguez, said Colombian authorities ruled out a possible guerrilla attack. Rebels have been active in the border area, but there have been no known cases of the guerrillas trying to down an airliner in Colombia's 38-year war.

This was the second crash in the border region this month.

A plane from Ecuador's state-owned oil company carrying 26 people crashed on a jungle-covered hillside in Colombian territory Jan. 17 while heading from Quito to Lago Agrio, 10 miles northeast of Quito, Ecuador's capital.

In April 1998, an Air France Boeing 727 leased by TAME crashed in Bogota, Colombia, killing all 53 people aboard. The plane had been warned by air traffic controllers that it was off course.