- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

CARACAS, Venezuela — A plane carrying vacationers home to the French Caribbean island of Martinique crashed yesterday in western Venezuela after reporting engine problems, killing all 160 persons on board, officials said.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 was headed from Panama to Martinique when its pilot requested permission to make an emergency landing just after 3 a.m., saying there was trouble with both engines, said Col. Francisco Paz, president of the National Civil Aviation Institute.

Airport authorities lost radio contact with the West Caribbean Airways plane about 10 minutes later in the remote area of Machiques, near the border with Colombia about 400 miles west of Caracas, he said.

“The plane went out of control and crashed,” Col. Paz said. “There are no survivors.”

Rescue teams pulled dozens of bodies from the wreckage, which officials said was strewn across a forested area among farms in the western state of Zulia.

They also found one of the plane’s black boxes, which could provide clues about the crash, said air force Maj. Javier Perez, the search-and-rescue chief.

The airline said the pilot reported an emergency 20 miles from the Colombia-Venezuela border. Authorities said the plane requested permission to attempt an emergency landing at the nearby airport in Maracaibo, Venezuela, but never made it.

The crash came only two days after a Cypriot airliner plunged into the mountains north of Athens, killing all 121 persons aboard.

The French Civil Aviation Authority said all 152 passengers aboard the West Caribbean Airways flight, including an infant, were French citizens from Martinique. The airline said there were eight Colombian crew members on board.

Officials in Martinique said the vacationers included groups of civil servants and their families who had chartered the flight for a one-week trip to Panama.

“There were couples who went away, and so today there are children who are orphans,” Andre Charpentier, mayor of the Martinique town of Basse-Pointe, from which 16 of the victims came, said on France’s ITele.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed his “strong emotion” as he learned of the “appalling catastrophe” and offered condolences to families of victims.

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