158 Likely Dead in Venezuela Plane Crash

The West Caribbean Airways plane was en route from Panama to the Caribbean island of Martinique when its pilot reported trouble with both engines to Caracas' air control tower at around 3 a.m.


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- A commercial airliner with at least 158 people aboard crashed in western Venezuela early Tuesday after reporting engine trouble. A top government official said it was unlikely anyone survived.

The West Caribbean Airways plane was en route from Panama to the Caribbean island of Martinique when its pilot reported trouble with both engines to Caracas' air control tower at around 3 a.m., said Francisco Paz, president of the National Aviation Institute.

Airport authorities lost radio contact with the plane about 10 minutes later, when the plane was in the area of Machiques, 400 miles west of Caracas in the western border state of Zulia, he said.

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

Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said that based on reports from military aircraft flying over the area, ''it's very unlikely there could be survivors.''

The plane had been chartered for tourists, and 152 passengers were listed on the flight plan, Paz said.

Colombia's RCN Radio reported that West Caribbean said in a press release that there were also eight crew members aboard. Col. Carlos Eduardo Montealegre, acting director of Colombia's civil aviation regulator Aerocivil, told RCN that six crew members were aboard and that all were Colombian.

The plane - an MD82, made by McDonnell Douglas - crashed 20 miles east of Venezuela's border with Colombia, according to the radio report.

West Caribbean Airways, a Colombian airline, began service in 1998. In March, a twin-engine plane operated by the airline crashed during takeoff from the Colombian island of Old Providence, killing eight people.

Two other crashes in Venezuela in the past year both involved military planes. In December, a military plane crashed in a mountainous area near Caracas, killing all 16 people on board. In August 2004, a military plane crashed into a mountain in central Venezuela, killing 25 people.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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