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Colombian Airliner with 160 on Board Crashes in Venezuela

Authorities have found one of the flight data recorders from a Colombian airliner that crashed in western Venezuela Tuesday, killing all 160 passengers and crew.

The airliner was on a flight from Panama to the French Caribbean island of Martinique when it went down.

French officials in Martinique and the tour company that chartered the McDonnell-Douglas MD-82 twin-engine jet say the passengers were returning to the island from a week-long vacation in Panama when disaster struck.

Vincent Carmignani, the head of civil aviation in Martinique, says first reports reaching his office indicate the aircraft experienced engine trouble before going down.

He says the plane crashed in a mountainous area of western Venezuela around 3:30 in the morning local time. He says there were about 152 passengers and that the information at his disposal indicates that there were no survivors.

The plane was owned by a Colombian company, West Caribbean Airways. Venezuelan officials said the pilot reported trouble with both of the aircraft's engines before it crashed into a mountain range in the Venezuelan state of Zulia.

French President Jacques Chirac has issued a statement expressing his deep sorrow at what he called an appalling catastrophe. And Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin interrupted a news conference to offer his condolences to the victims' families.

He says that at this tragic moment, his thoughts go out to the victims and their relatives. He says he wishes to communicate to them the solidarity of the French nation and his own deepest sympathies.

Mr. de Villepin says the Foreign Ministry in Paris has opened up a crisis center to maintain contacts with victims' families and Venezuelan authorities. The government has also dispatched a cabinet-level official to Martinique and a team of investigators to the crash site.