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Venezuela probes fatal plane crash

President Hugo Chavez says investigators are trying to find the cause of a plane crash that killed 46 people.

world Updated: Feb 23, 2008 12:58 IST

Investigators in Venezuela are working to find out why a plane crashed into a mountain face shortly after take-off this week, killing all 46 people on board, President Hugo Chavez has said.

The wreckage of the twin-prop ATR-42 aircraft was found early on Saturday just 10 km from the airport of Merida, a town in the western Andes region that was its point of departure.

It went down just before sunset on Thursday, minutes after leaving for the capital Caracas, 500 km away. "The crashed plane practically disintegrated, and only debris can be seen in a rugged zone," the head of Venezuela's civil protection service, General Antonio Rivero, said after flying over the site.

Mountain rescue teams were climbing a sheer mountain face known as La Cara del Indio (the Indian's face) to get at the wreck, which was at nearly 4,000 meters' altitude, Rivero said.

The rough terrain meant it could take up to three days to recover all the bodies, he said. Strong winds and low clouds were hampering the use of helicopters.

Chavez confirmed that all those on the plane had died and offered his condolences to the victims' families. "We do not know the cause but an investigation is underway. The crash took place in a remote mountainous area," he said in an address to the nation, adding that weather was not suspected to be a factor. Aerial photos showed only the tail of the plane intact, stuck in the mountain.