36 survive Venezuela plane crash

2010-09-14 07:29

Fifteen people have died in a plane crash in eastern Venezuela, but 36 others miraculously survived after the pilot alerted air traffic control that something was wrong moments before disaster struck.

The plane, carrying 47 passengers and four crew from the resort city of Isla Margarita, burst into flames yesterday as it hit the ground near a steelworks owned by the Sidor group in Bolivar state.

“In total we have 36 survivors and 15 dead. The survivors are being looked after,” said Transport and Communications Minister Francisco Garces.

“Given the condition of the plane, I think we were very lucky.”

Most of the survivors had sustained burns and were traumatised by the event, but none were in life-threatening condition, Garces said.

The Conviasa Airlines ATR-42-300 plane went down about 10km from Puerto Ordaz, on the Orinoco River. It broke in two and caught fire as it hit the ground. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

Officials said the quick response by the emergency services after the pilot warned air traffic control that the flight was in trouble prevented a higher death toll.

Rescuers arrived at the scene quickly with medical helicopters to fly the wounded to local hospitals that had been placed on alert. A burns unit was also on standby to treat those caught in the blazing wreckage.

“There’s been a miracle here,” said Bolivar state Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez.

The plane went down at a site mostly used by Sidor to store scrap industrial material. None of its employees was injured in the crash, but they were among the first at the scene helping rescue passengers, Rangel Gomez said.

The governor said the pilot appeared to have “lost control” of the plane and radioed a control tower to warn that the flight was having technical difficulties.

A spokesperson for ATR, the aircraft manufacturer, said the firm was investigating the accident.

“We are working in close cooperation with the company (Conviasa) and authorities to understand the causes of the accident. At the moment we do not
know what caused it,” a spokesperson in Paris said.

The last major air accident in Venezuela was in February 2008 and also involved an ATR-42-300, which crashed in the Andes, killing 46.

Three years earlier, 160 people were killed in a Venezuelan crash that was one of the world’s deadliest ever. The flight was en route to Martinique and the majority of those killed – 152 of the passengers – were from the small Caribbean island. An investigation into the disaster later concluded human error was to blame.

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