Transaven Airlines plane carrying up to 18 people still missing off Venezuelan coast

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Friday, January 4, 2008

A file photo of a Russian Let L-410MU, an earlier version somewhat comparable to the one involved.

An aircraft owned and operated by Transaven Airlines is believed to have crashed into the sea off the coast of Venezuela. 14 or 18 people were on board.

The dual-engined Czechoslovakian-built (in 1987) Let L-410UVP-E3 plane had departed from Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas on its scheduled domestic flight to Los Roques Airport and is believed to have subsequently crashed into the ocean approximately 24 miles (39 km) short of its destination in the Los Roques archipelago, according to General Antonio Rivero, emergency management director for Venezuela. Initially, Bloomberg and Aviation Safety Network had reported that the plane had left the airport at Los Roques on its way to Caracas prior to the accident.

Reuters reported that the crash was initially noticed when the plane failed to arrive at the Los Roques, according to air rescue worker Caleb Castro. Rivero told Reuters that four extra passengers had boarded at the last minute, bringing the total on board to 18.

The Italian foreign ministry told reporters that eight of those on board were Italian, whilst Rivero's agency said the others were five Venezuelans and an American. The United States embassy said it had no information about details of their citizen on the flight, and a subsequent release said it was possible he or she was in fact Swiss.

Search and rescue teams are using a navy frigate and patrol boats and helicopters to search for any survivors. "Speed boats, a plane and a helicopter are searching for the aircraft," Castro said to reporters.

A NASA satellite image of Los Roques archipelago

Luis Diaz, operations director for civil protection, said that the plane had reported engine trouble shortly before contact was lost. Although weather is not presently considered a factor, as conditions were good at the time, rains and high waves have developed and are hampering search efforts. Transaven have had two previous incidents, but no accidents. In 2002 a Transaven plane performed an emergency landing on water, in which all thirteen on board escaped uninjured. The other was a standard emergency landing in 2005. Both were on the same Caracas-Los Roques route.

Transaven, a small local company, regularly flies to Los Roques, a national park and a popular tourist destination boasting white sand beaches and world-class scuba-diving sites.


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