UPDATE: 160 Confirmed Dead in Venezuelan Air Crash

August 17, 2005

As the deadly series of plane crashes continued – 4 since Aug. 2 – rescue workers continued to comb the wreckage of the West Caribbean MD-82 that went down yesterday in Venezuela, near the Colombian border. All 152 passengers and 8 crew members perished in the accident.

The plane had been chartered by Globe Trotter, a travel service on the island of Martinique, a French possession in the Caribbean. All of the passengers were from the island, and were on a return flight from Panama, when the pilot reported trouble with the engines. It had been diverted to Venezuela in order to make an emergency landing.

Reports on French television registered the shock, incomprehension and deep emotions of Martinique’s residents. Many had relatives or friends on the doomed plane. French President Jacques Chirac issued a statement expressing his “très vive émotion [very deep sympathy]” for the victims of the crash, their families and the residents of Martinique. He promised that the fullest possible investigation would be conducted into the causes of the crash.

The French Transport Ministry said local aviation authorities had inspected the MD-82 on at least two occasions since last spring at the airport in Fort-de-France. No problems were identified. West Caribbean had been given authority to operate charter flights between Panama and both Martinique and Guadeloupe since the beginning of 2005.

Authorities have recovered one of the plane’s black boxes – the flight data recorder -, which should shed some light on the cause of the crash. Speculation has centered on a failure of both of the plane’s engines, a highly unlikely occurrence. An experienced Air France pilot, interviewed on France’s Antenne2, said the chances of both engines failing at the same time was something like a “billion to one.”

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