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Fri, Aug 19, 2005

Fuel System Focus Of Venezuela Probe

Questions Remain: Why Would Both Engines Fail Simultaneously?

French authorities in Martinique Thursday opened a criminal investigation into the crash of a West Caribbean MD-82 in Venezuela earlier this week -- one that killed 160 people.

As ANN reported in real time Tuesday, the MD-82 (file photo of type, below) apparently lost power to both engines over the jungle near the Colombian border while on a flight from Panama to Martinique. All on board were lost -- 152 French citizens among them.

"This will be done with the agreement of the (French) Justice Minister (Pascal Clement)," a French legal source told the Daily Telegraph of Sydney.

More than 20 French officials -- doctors and investigators -- arrived in Venezuela on Wednesday to participate in the effort to identify both bodies and a cause for the mishap.

In the meantime, West Caribbean's aircraft maintenance is coming under increased scrutiny. The airline has seven aircraft remaining in its fleet -- but six were already grounded for maintenance or safety reasons. The remaining aircraft, a Czech-built LET 410, was grounded voluntarily by the airline on Wednesday.

It was the second time a West Caribbean aircraft went down during the past five months. In March, one of its planes crashed on the small Colombian island of Old Providence. All eight people on board wre lost.

FMI: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ve.html

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