25 years after the Fray Bentos tragedy: the day that 74 people died when a plane fell

25 years after the Fray Bentos tragedy: the day that 74 people died when a plane fell

«One of the characteristics of this tragedy, which was also social, was the non-existence of the bodies. They were pulverized,” Agustina Cassinelli (36), the youngest daughter of Carlos Cassinelli, a sociologist and photographer dedicated to public health from the Association of State Workers (ATE), told the Télam agency in Argentina. “My father dies a victim of the system he was fighting,” the young woman wrote in a book that contains photographs and reflections of her father and that she compiled together with her brothers when the tragedy was 10 years old. In the copy, which she showed Télam at her house in the Parque Avellaneda neighborhood of Buenos Aires, she also expressed: “I think that, more than crying, this tribute is a call to fight.” The idea of ​​”putting up a fight” transcended Agustina as well as her other sons and daughters.
“74 people died and there is no one responsible, it is incredible, from officials to those who had to control things to happen.” Between 2019 and 2021, the oral and public trial took place that culminated on December 23 last when the Oral Federal Criminal Court (TOCF) 5 issued the acquittal of all the defendants from Austral and the Air Force. On May 10, the plaintiff filed an appeal against the sentence, for which they are still awaiting a response. “74 people died and there is no one responsible, it is incredible, from officials to those who had to control things to happen,” Agustina remarked.
Cassinelli frequently traveled around the country to cover union conflicts in hospitals, and he had gone to Posadas to do the same thing. That day in 1997 he approached the airport before the scheduled time and as he found an available seat he took flight 2553.
“My mother did not know that he was traveling on that flight, because she had not been able to notify him,” recalled her youngest daughter, who also chose the health field as a work environment.
«The sons and daughters are important to be able to mourn more collectively, beyond individual family mourning. We have a role of accompaniment and empathy of knowing what the other person went through. There were barbarities in the trial hearings », he completed. And he concluded: «The acquittal was a confirmation of all the years of injustice and corruption».
“After the tragedy everything changed”
At his house in the Buenos Aires party of Ituzaingó, Mauro Vazquez (36), who was 11 when he lost his mother, the commissioner of board Susana Inés Trotta, defined that this incident “broke” them as family members and that what they tried these 25 years It was “rebuild.” “After the tragedy, everything changed,” she told Télam.
From the first moment, Mauro and his younger sister, behind the tireless protection of their father, Daniel, joined the families affected by the incident and learned early on the concepts of “corruption”, “emptying”, “looting” and ” lie» linked to what had happened to his mother and the other 73 victims.
It was everyday for Mauro to get on planes of which he was “a big fan” because the pilots, companions of his mother, gave him manuals, brochures, small planes, and took him to fly when he didn’t have classes. “He wanted to be a pilot,” he said while holding in his hands some photos of him as a child smiling with his mother in an airplane cabin. “I tried to take a course but it was cut short, I had a hard time grieving, it was difficult to get on a plane, I also knew that several of those involved were instructors or belonged to some branch of aviation and I didn’t want to run into any of them either,” he recalled.
His father, Daniel, was the one who explained to Mauro and his sister what had happened to their mother: “I remember I was waiting for her to finish a primary school biology assignment on a piece of cardboard, and the only thing I could ask my dad was ‘how?, when is he coming back?’».
“Sometimes when I hear certain steps with heels I remember the sound of my mother’s uniform shoes, which were recorded when I came home at dawn after a flight,” he recalled. Another of the objects that Mauro associates with his mother is, like Agustina, a piece of the plane’s fuselage.
“There is a need to have something physical. The plane fell off everywhere and you always find a little piece of the fuselage, I brought one and I have it on hand or on the bedside table because when I’m down it helps me to look at it, “he said.
“It is important to know the giant network that was responsible”
For Ignacio Politzer (41), who became a family spokesperson at an early age, the circumstances in which his father, the 49-year-old economist Alejandro Politzer, and the other victims died were “a brutal injustice.” He was 16 years old when he found out that something had happened to the flight. At that time his father worked at the Yacyretá dam. “He came and went continuously and gave advice on energy work,” the sociologist also assured Télam at his home in Munro.
“Although I was able to develop my family and professionally, it is a trauma that remains with you, that you have to work on. Austral and the Air Force always victimized themselves and linked the event to the storm that day. I had panic attacks for almost ten years every time it rained. The speech was ‘they got into a storm’ and every time it rained I regressed internally. The day I found out it was a lie, I thought ‘they are the worst there is’ », he remarked.
“What happened to the plane is that it was going very fast but the speedometer did not indicate the real speed, it was frozen and inside the plane you do not know how fast you are going, without the record through devices,” he explained. “Austral and the Air Force always victimized themselves and linked the event to the storm that day. I had panic attacks for almost ten years every time it rained. The day I found out it was a lie, I thought ‘they are the worst there is’»
The bond between sons and daughters of victims of the tragedy was also fundamental for Ignacio. «It happened so many years ago and it is still something central in life, a lot of sons and daughters became friends, we shared life. There are young boys who had psychotic breaks from this situation, people who died in the process of the trial, “he recounted.
Regarding the acquittal, Ignacio considered that “it is important that they have had to be prosecuted for a lot of years in the trial, including the president of Iberia, who owned Aerolineas and Austral.” “The defunding of the company, that the pilots did not have vacations, that the plane had I don’t know how many failures, didn’t all these things have anything to do with it?” the facts and the giant network that was responsible.
«From my old man I took the taste for knowledge, reading, politics, and being a fan of Platense. With my eldest son we are going to see Platense, and it’s a bit of a bond with him in some way and at the same time looking forward”, he concluded.
Rumachella: «The plane fell on us in the living room of the house»
Silvina Rumachella (53) lives in the double dimension of being the sister of the stewardess Viviana Rumachella, victim of the Austral tragedy, and lawyer for the lawsuit in the case since she was 28 years old. “We came with a life project and suddenly, as my husband says, ‘the plane fell on us in the living room of the house,’ not in Fray Bentos,” he described Télam in his home in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Ortúzar in reference to the piles of papers, hundreds of pages of pleadings, numerous documentation folders and studies of technical issues on aviation that the couple was unaware of and had to incorporate when assuming a leading role in the search for justice.
When the incident occurred, on October 10, 1997, his sister Viviana had been with the Austral company for 11 years and already noticed “an abysmal difference from one management to another to the detriment of safety; what was seen, what was said and what they suffered as workers, there were numerous complaints”, Silvina recalled.
«Viviana wanted to resign, in fact she was planning it and she was afraid, she transmitted it to me and my mother. She was able to buy an apartment and was going to open it the Saturday after the tragedy, but she did not get to move, “she recalled in dialogue with Télam.
The stewardess had not scheduled that flight but was on duty and the person who had to fly got off due to health issues. “A few days before, she had dreamed that she died in an accident,” recalled her sister, who says she meets her sporadically in her dreams.
Silvina maintained that in Argentina “there was no experience in dealing with tragedies with multiple victims of these characteristics” when the Austral plane crashed in the Uruguayan town of Fray Bentos, and assured that “to the relatives, at first the company told us that the plane had landed and that it was intact on the side of a road.
“This trial lacked a systemic vision of the analysis of the causes of the incident, because if there were, the court would never have been able to rule out the analysis of the context in which the Austral company was operating,” he explained. Among the main difficulties they experienced during this period, the lawyer mentioned the lies of Austral, which depended on the Spanish state company Iberia, and the adulteration of documents by the accused, as well as “tightening them”.
“At that time, the commercial air system was in the hands of the Air Force, which was judge and jury: it enabled the planes, the crew members, it exercised inspection control, and on top of that, when an accident occurred, it investigated. Now it is not like that, because there is the National Civil Aviation Administration (ANAC) created during the administration of (former president) Néstor Kirchner, the only president who received us relatives, “he said.
On the other hand, the lawyer stressed that the fact that there were no identifiable human remains “triggered the craziest imagination of people to think that they did not die.” «The scenes of when we meet with the other relatives, the little faces of the children, always stay with me. In 2019 we decided to go to Fray Bentos, because there were kids who hadn’t been there. I accompanied them, they did rituals, they buried letters, very symbolic, to mourn », she concluded.

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