All 46 aboard Venezuela plane killed in mountain crash

 

All 46 people on board died when a Venezuelan passenger plane slammed into the sheer face of a foggy Andean mountain after veering off course after takeoff, officials said on Friday.

 

Rescuers rappelled from helicopters to search for remains in the shattered wreckage lodged 13,000 feet above sea level on a craggy, rock wall known as "Indian Face."

 

The blue-and-white tail of the twin-engine plane rested on the mountainside, which was charred by flames. Pieces of white fuselage and other remains from the crash littered the area, images from a video shot by searchers showed.


Whipped by cross-winds, rescue mountain-climbers struggled to lower themselves down the cliff to reach the plane operated by the small local airline Santa Barbara, civil defense chief Antonio Rivero said.


"This plane was found completely wrecked, smashed against the face of one of the mountains," Rivero said. "Unfortunately everyone aboard died."


With few clearings to land choppers, searchers set up camp almost a mile away and trekked across the rugged terrain to the wreckage.

The plane crashed nearly 10km from the tourist city of Merida after taking off for the capital Caracas on Thursday before dusk in a notoriously difficult region to navigate.

"It makes your heart ache. Venezuela is in mourning," President Hugo Chavez said in a televised speech.

Chavez pledged his government would do “everything that must be done” to recover the remains for the families. “May they rest in peace,” he said.

 

Relatives and friends of the victims gathered in tears, some of them embracing, at the airports of Merida and Caracas.

 

“We join in the profound pain of all the relatives of our passengers and co-workers,” the airline said, pledging to co-operate fully with investigators.

 

Aircraft manufacturer ATR, based in Toulouse, France, said specialists from the company and the French Accident Bureau were leaving immediately to assist in a probe. (Reuters & AP)


 

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