French Investigators Find Overloading Contributed '05 Venezuela Crash

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique_An airliner that crashed in Venezuela, killing 152 tourists from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, was apparently overloaded, according to French authorities investigating the disaster.

"Apparently, the plane was too loaded to have sufficient propulsion at the altitude it was at," prosecutor Claude Bellanger said. The Aug. 16, 2005, crash also killed the eight-member Colombian crew on the chartered West Caribbean Airways jet.

French investigators on Thursday briefed victims' families on the results of analyses on the plane's flight recorders and engines. They said the two engines were working.

But Bellanger said investigators were "struck by the absence of exchanges and communication between the crew members."

He said the plane's route also was "quite troubling" because the plane flew through a storm. "Everyone knows that cumulonimbus (clouds) are very damaging for a plane," he said.

Investigations are continuing.

French, Colombian and U.S. experts have been cooperating with Venezuelan investigators, and the cockpit voice recorder was analyzed in France along with the flight data recorder.

The French investigation authority that conducted the analysis confirmed that about eight minutes before the crash, the crew discussed weather conditions and the possibility of icing, and about turning the deicers on.

Later, the crew told air traffic controllers they had a double engine failure. A ground proximity alarm sounded for the last eight seconds of the flight, then the recording stopped.

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