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Venezuela plane crash kills 160

All 160 people on a West Caribbean airliner died when it crashed on Tuesday near Venezuela's border with Colombia, France's civil aviation authority says.

Last Modified: 17 Aug 2005 05:02 GMT
One of two black box flight data recorders has been found

All 160 people on a West Caribbean airliner died when it crashed on Tuesday near Venezuela's border with Colombia, France's civil aviation authority says.

Eight Colombian crew members and 152 passengers were on the plane en route from Panama to the French Caribbean island territory of Martinique when it went down.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 aircraft crashed in the Sierra de Perija mountains between the districts of La Cucharita and La Negra. 

"Unfortunately, there were no survivors from this accident," Colonel Francisco Paz, head of Venezuela's National Civil Aviation Institute, told local television. 

Most of the passengers were local government officials in Martinique who had been on holiday with their families, an official at the Fort-de-France airport in Martinique said.

He added that the 152 passengers included one baby and four children. 

The authorities found one of two black box flight data recorders from the aircraft, which could provide vital details about the aircraft's last moments.

Route changed

Venezuelan Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said the aircraft had changed its route to try to land in the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, but lost altitude and crashed in the pre-dawn hours in the remote Sierra de Perija region. 

Passengers on board included
a baby and four children

"When it was flying over Venezuelan airspace, they had problems with one engine and then with another engine, and at that moment it went down," Chacon said. 
  
Airport authorities had earlier lost radio contact with the plane in the area of Machiques, in the western state of Zulia.

"Residents in the area said they heard an explosion," Paz said.

He added that the pilot had reported trouble with both engines to the Caracas air control tower just after 3am local time, and authorities lost contact with the aeroplane roughly 10 minutes later.

Response

The aircraft is understood to have gone down between two farms in the remote region.

The MD-82 airplane's pilot had
reported engine problems  

The Martinique tour company which had chartered the aircraft, Globe Trotters, said the passengers had been returning after a week's holiday in Panama.
  
A government official on the island, Maurice Tubul, said a definitive list of the passengers was being drawn up.

He said France's air accident investigation office (BEA) was sending three people to Venezuela and two to Martinique to probe the causes of the crash.

Previous problems

A spokesman for West Caribbean Airways said on Tuesday that the plane had dropped its tail cone last month during a flight but was later repaired.

John Ospina, spokesman for the Medellin-based airline,
said the tail-cone incident happened in early July while the plane was headed to an airport in Colombia's coffee-growing region.

But he said the tail cone's function was to improve fuel efficiency and aerodynamics and was in no way related to any problems that caused Tuesday's crash.

The spokesman said the same plane also underwent several hours of repairs while passengers waited to board a domestic flight about two weeks ago, but did not know the nature of
that problem.

Source:
Agencies
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