France’s foreign minister said today it could take time to identify the bodies of the passengers on the West Caribbean Airways plane that crashed in Venezuela, killing all 160 aboard.
Most of the 152 passengers were French citizens from the French Caribbean island of Martinique who were returning from a holiday in Panama when the engines failed and the plane went down yesterday near the Venezuelan border with Colombia.
“It is probable that the identification process will take time,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said, adding that some 60 bodies had been transferred from the crash site to a medical school in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
The Colombian pilot had radioed the nearby airport in Maracaibo requesting permission to descend from 33,000 feet to 14,000 feet, Venezuelan Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said.
French specialists in identifying remains were sent to Martinique and Venezuela. Their initial task was to collect remains of the crash victims and transfer them to Maracaibo so teams could then conserve the parts and identify them, the minister said.
The work was complicated by the difficulty of reaching the crash site, which is in a mountainous area accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles and helicopters, Douste-Blazy said.
The plane went down in an area east of the Sierra de Perija mountains near Machiques, about 400 miles west of Caracas.
Douste-Blazy said it appeared the plane had “hit the ground in a nosedive at full force.”