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West Caribbean Airways plane crash kills 160

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August 16 Caracas:  A Colombian airliner carrying 160 people crashed Tuesday in a remote area of western Venezuela, aviation officials said. No survivors have been found.A spokeswoman for West Caribbean Airways, based in Medellin, Colombia, said there were 152 passengers and eight crew members on board, making it the deadliest plane crash in Venezuela's history.
The MD-82 aircraft left Tocumen International Airport south of Panama City around 1 a.m. local time, headed for Fort de France, Martinique, according to Panamanian aviation officials.
Most of the passengers were from Martinique, according to civil aeronautics officials in Colombia, and the crew was Colombian.
The flight had been chartered by tourists in Martinique, a French possession in the Caribbean.
Venezuelan officials said the jetliner's pilots reported engine problems shortly before contact was lost with the aircraft around 3 a.m. ET.
Tomas Paredes with Panama's aviation agency said the pilots had asked to descend from 31,000 feet to 14,000 feet because both engines were having problems.That was the last communication from the aircraft, Paredes said.
Some residents in Venezuela's Zulia state reported hearing a loud explosion early in the morning, near the city of Machiques and Lake Maracaibo, local law enforcement officials said. The crash site is not far from the border with Colombia.
Search and rescue crews are at the site of the crash, and Venezuelan military troops have set up a field hospital in case anyone is found alive.
Reporter Jeidis Osechas of the Venezuelan television network Globovision said from the scene of the crash there was still smoke coming from the heavily forested region, and the wreckage appeared to be strewn over a large area.
French President Jacques Chirac released a statement expressing his sorrow about the accident that claimed the lives of several French citizens.
"The president expresses, on behalf of all French citizens, his saddest condolences and his deep compassion for the families and friends of the victims," the statement said.
A smaller aircraft owned by West Caribbean Airways crashed as it took off in Colombia in March, killing eight people and injuring eight others.
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