Wreckage probed for clues to crash

VENEZUELAN investigators yesterday picked through the wreckage of a plane that crashed with 160 people on board, trying to determine what caused the engines to fail and sent the jet plunging from the sky in the country’s deadliest air disaster in history.

The pilot radioed authorities saying both engines had failed and requested permission for an emergency landing yesterday shortly before the West Caribbean Airways plane plummeted to the ground, killing all aboard.

Seats, pillows, and smouldering wreckage were strewn across a pasture dotted with trees among cattle ranches near the border with Colombia.

Sombre-faced rescue workers collected body parts and pieces of bone amid bloodstained clothes that lay near charred trees.

The crash was the deadliest in Venezuelan history, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

Search teams recovered one of the jet’s black boxes, which could give clues to the crash’s cause, said Air Force Major Javier Perez, the search and rescue chief.

As the plane developed problems hours before dawn on Tuesday, the Colombian pilot radioed a nearby airport in Maracaibo requesting permission to descend from 33,000 feet to 14,000 feet, said Venezuelan Interior Minister Jesse Chacon.

Investigators believe the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 fell into a steep descent minutes later, plunging about 7,000 feet a minute before slamming into the ground.

The jet was carrying 152 tourists from Martinique returning home after a week in Panama.

Panama’s civil aviation authority said the plane had enough fuel for the three-hour trip.

Peter Goelz, former managing director of the US National Transportation Safety Board, said both engines also underwent work recently to suppress noise.

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