World

Fury follows Romania crash

Two dead after rescuers are slow to find wreckage

It took 4½ hours for villagers and a woodcutter to locate the plane in Transylvania, where it crashed on Monday.
Catalin Cadan/Associated Press
It took 4½ hours for villagers and a woodcutter to locate the plane in Transylvania, where it crashed on Monday.

BUCHAREST, Romania — A small plane crash on a remote mountain would normally not be enough to anger an entire country or threaten the government. Romania, however, is dealing with just this scenario.

So far, four senior officials including the Interior minister have resigned or been fired after all those onboard a medical flight initially survived Monday’s crash in thick fog. A pilot and a medical student later died of hypothermia among other causes after waiting for hours in deep snow to be saved.

Romanians reacted with fury, taking to social media and talk shows to accuse the government of incompetence and complacency after it emerged that the least injured of the survivors called emergency services six times.

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It took 4½ hours for villagers and a woodcutter to locate the plane in Transylvania after it lost altitude and crashed at 4,600 feet above sea level. Medical teams arrived hours later and were reportedly ill-equipped. The plane, carrying two pilots and five medical workers, was on its way to pick up a liver for a transplant.

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‘‘The government generally does nothing, and in this case they did nothing to locate the plane. A woodcutter had to find them,’’ aviation professor Nicolae Serban Tomescu said. ‘‘The rescue operation was like Swiss cheese. There were holes everywhere.’’

But some officials have defended the government’s response, saying rescuers worked in difficult weather conditions and darkness.

Nonetheless, public ire has reached a peak because many believe the government was unable to muster up-to-date equipment to rescue the crash victims, but is willing to invest its resources heavily on surveillance. Romania, a country of 19 million with no foreign enemies, has seven intelligence agencies, including the main domestic and foreign spying agencies. Democracy activists claim that those in power use intelligence to gain unfair advantages over opponents and dig up compromising data.

There is also anger because the elite telecommunications agency — one of the seven intelligence agencies — invested 40 million euros in the country’s national emergency number, and the six calls made did not appear to be enough to get help quickly.

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The blowback has taken its toll on the government, which is vying to win a presidential election in November. Interior Minister Radu Stroe handed in his resignation to the prime minister Thursday to become the highest-ranking government official to leave his post in the scandal. The country’s air traffic control chief, the head of the emergency services, and another senior Interior ministry officialalso lost their jobs.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta fired two of those officials and called for the resignations of others not under his authority.

Ponta is also trying to save face because he went on a talk show Monday evening to say all seven people on the flight had survived. Romanians had been glued to TV news bulletins, and the story was at first presented as one with a happy ending.

‘‘The pilot did everything he could to save their lives but the authorities were negligent,’’ said Iuliana Popescu, a security guard.

The pilot who was killed, Adrian Iovan, had 30 years of experience and was well known in Romania as an aviation expert who went on TV whenever there was an accident. He died of hypothermia and from numerous fractures. Aurelia Ion, 23, a volunteer medical student in her fifth year, died from hypothermia and injuries.

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Cristian Tudorica, a clerk, summed up the public mood.

‘The rescue operation was like Swiss cheese. There were holes everywhere.’

‘‘Those doctors were on the flight to save others,’’ he said. ‘‘It is right that the [Interior] minister resigned. These people should not have died.’’