Caracas, Venezuela, August 16, 2005 —An airplane of the Colombian airline Caribbean West crashed in Venezuela early this morning, killing all 152 passengers and 8 crew members. The airplane, an MD-82, was flying from Panama City to the Caribbean island of Martinique and crashed in the mountainous Sierra Perija, about 20 miles east of the Colombian-Venezuelan border.
According to initial reports, all passengers were French citizens from Martinique and the crew was Colombian. Other reports said that most passengers were Panamanians.
Venezuela’s main airport, Maiquetia, received a distress call at about 3:00am, informing the airport that one of the plane’s engines was having problems and requesting permission for an emergency landing. A little later the airport was told that the second engine was having problems. At 4:00am the plane disappeared from the radar.
Rescue teams had a difficult time getting to the crash site because of heavy rains. Once rescue teams reached the site, the bodies of the dead were flown out via helicopter, with the help of Venezuela’s National Guard, to the next largest Venezuelan city of Maracaibo.
Rescuers immediately began looking for the plane’s flight recorder, or “black box,” in the hope of finding out what caused the crash. Venezuela’s minister of the Interior and of Justice, Jesse Chacon, reported this afternoon that the flight recorder had been found.
According to people at the crash site, the plane’s debris was spread over a large area, suggesting that it hit the ground at a very high velocity. Residents of Machiques, the community near which the plane crashed, reported that they heard a loud explosion at the time of the crash.
The Venezuelan Red Cross was put in charge of identifying the victims and of assisting family members of the victims.
The airline West Caribbean released a statement, in which it said, “The WCW-708 model MD-82, registration HK-4374 was covering the Panama-Martinique route with 151 passengers, an infant, and 8 crew when it declared an emergency 20 miles inside Venezuela’s border with Colombia.”