24 killed in Venezuela as aircraft carrying tourists crashes

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The Independent US

An aircraft carrying American and European tourists crashed yesterday into a shantytown in southern Venezuela, killing all 24 people on board and injuring three people on the ground, officials said.

An aircraft carrying American and European tourists crashed yesterday into a shantytown in southern Venezuela, killing all 24 people on board and injuring three people on the ground, officials said.

Despite earlier reports, no Britons were aboard the aircraft when it crashed, the British Embassy in Caracas confirmed.

The Rutaca airlines flight crashed shortly after taking off from refueling in the city of Ciudad Bolivar. Witnesses said one of its wings broke off on impact and smashed into three houses in the shantytown of Abobo, where a blaze broke out.

There were no survivors, said Victor Arauja, a pilot for Rutaca. The cause of the crash of the DC-3 aircraft wasn't immediately known.

The passengers included six Americans, five Dutch, four Italians, two Hungarians, two Venezuelans and one Austrian, according to a list released by the government's Air Rescue Service. All four Venezuelan crew members also died. Hometowns of the victims were not known.

Witnesses said they saw the aircraft come down with one of its two engines on fire Thursday evening, smash into a large tree and burst into flames, according to Jose Laurencia Silva, a reporter for the newspaper El Expreso Bolivar. A wing spun off, slamming into the homes, Silva said.

Firefighters doused flames amid undergrowth in the shanty town.

A 22-year-old woman and her two children, 2 years and 6 months old, were in stable condition with burns at a local hospital, said Angel Rangel, director of Venezuela's national civil defence agency.

Rutaca Flight 225 was headed from Canaima, a gateway for tourists to Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, in Venezuela's famed Gran Sabana territory, an area of lush tropical foliage and soaring mesas. It was bound for Por La Mar, a city on an island off the country's northern, Caribbean coast.

The flight landed for refueling in Ciudad Bolivar, about 335 miles south east of Caracas, Venezuela's capital, Rangel said. Minutes after taking off, the aircraft tried to turn back for an emergency landing.

The pilot, Angel Lopez, notified air control officials that he was turning back but did not say why and did not announce an emergency, said Air Rescue Service Spokesman Benjamin Uquillas. Uquillas said his agency had begun an investigation to determine the cause of the accident.

Officials had recovered bodies from the wreckage and taken them to a morgue in Ciudad Bolivar, where authorities were trying to contact foreign embassies, TV Guayana reported.

Rutaca is a cargo and passenger carrier based in Ciudad Bolivar. It flies to Trinidad, Guyana and Venezuelan tourist destinations.

The DC-3 is a U.S.-built, twin-propeller aircraft first introduced in 1935, and the last one was built in 1946. Hundreds of the rugged aircraft remain in service throughout the world as cargo and charter planes. The age of the one in Thursday's crash is currently unknown.

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