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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 February 2008, 23:02 GMT
Venezuela crash data boxes found
The plane was practically pulverised by the impact

Searchers have located the two flight data recorders from a Venezuelan passenger plane which crashed in the Andes mountains on Thursday.

Forty-six people died when the plane crashed as it was flying from the city of Merida to the capital, Caracas.

Investigators hope the recorders will help establish why the plane crashed shortly after take-off and why the pilot made no distress call.

Wreckage from the totally destroyed plane was found early on Friday.

Rescue workers are trying to recover the burned remains of the passengers and crew of the twin-engine ATR-42 plane, which came down just 10km (six miles) north-east of the city of Merida, but in a remote, mountainous area.

Direct impact

The mostly Venezuelan victims among the 43 passengers and three crew members included three Colombians and a US citizen.

President Hugo Chavez said Venezuela was in mourning and called for a full investigation into the incident.

The area's mountainous terrain has made reaching the wreckage difficult.

Map of Venezuela
"The plane is just too destroyed and it is in such a tough area," said Gerardo Rojas, a regional civil defence chief.

Only the tail of the twin-engine ATR-42 plane, operated by the Santa Barbara airline, was visible from the air.

"The impact was direct. The aircraft is practically pulverised," fire fighter Sgt Johnny Paz told the Venezuelan TV station Globovision.

"It crashed at an altitude of 12,000 feet (4,000 metres) against a wall of rock," he said. "There are no survivors."

Rescuers abseiled down from helicopters to search the wreckage. Other search parties were sent in by foot.

Special training

Merida is located about 680km (420 miles) south-west of Caracas.

It is notoriously difficult to navigate around the city.

Pilots are given special training to take off and land at the airport because the city is surrounded by high mountains.

Visibility is often poor and planes are not allowed to take off at night.

However, the weather on departure was said to have been normal for Merida.

The crashed plane was a turboprop aircraft produced by ATR, a French-Italian company.

Santa Barbara airline's president, Jorge Alvarez, said the plane had been well maintained and had no history of technical problems.

The plane was about 20 years old and the pilot had been working for Santa Barbara for eight years, he said.

Plane crashes off Venezuela coast
05 Jan 08 |  Americas
Venezuela plane crash kills 160
16 Aug 05 |  Americas
Grim find at Venezuela crash site
17 Aug 05 |  Americas

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