Plane carrying 46 missing in Venezuela

A commercial airliner with 46 people aboard disappeared in southwestern Venezuela on Thursday, and authorities feared it had crashed after residents reported hearing a thunderous noise in the mountains.

Plane carrying 46 missing in Venezuela
Search teams were dispatched to the Venezuelan Andes near the city of Merida, from where the plane departed. The flight was reported missing 30 minutes after takeoff.

On Friday, rescue crews were being sent to the mountainous area of Collado del Condor, at an altitude of about 13,000 feet, where residents reported by phone "that they heard a great crash," said Noel Marquez, the emergency management director in Merida state.

The plane, owned by Venezuelan airline Santa Barbara, failed to contact control towers in two cities as expected after it took off from Merida en route to Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas, said Gen. Antonio Rivero, Venezuela's emergency management director.

Rivero told state television that authorities in the area "have information regarding the possible discovery of the plane" in the mountainous region. But he said officials have no information on what condition the plane could be in.

An air search for the twin-engine plane was temporarily called off at nightfall due to low visibility and fog, Marquez said.

Relatives and friends of those on board gathered in tears, some of them embracing, at Simon Bolivar International Airport as they awaited word from authorities.

Santa Barbara is a small airline that covers domestic routes in Venezuela.

The French-made ATR 42-300 carrying 43 passengers and three crew members took off from Merida's airport at 4:59 p.m., officials said. The duration of the flight was to have been an hour and 45 minutes.

The area where it disappeared is about 400 miles southwest of Caracas.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Şubat 2008, 17:13