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'A miracle': 36 survive plane crash in Venezuela

Image: Rescue workers search for victims at the place where a ATR-42 plane crashed in Puerto Ordaz
Rescue workers search for victims after a plane crashed Monday in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.Reuters
/ Source: news services

A turboprop plane carrying 51 passengers and crew crashed into a steel mill yard in Venezuela and burst into flames Monday, killing 15 people.

Authorities said 36 survivors were pulled from the wreckage of the French-built ATR-42 plane owned by Venezuela's state-run airline Conviasa.

The aircraft was flying from the Caribbean island of Margarita to the southern industrial city Puerto Ordaz when it came down near the gates of the vast Sidor mill on the banks of the Orinoco River.

Employees at the steel foundry pulled people from the smoking wreckage of the plane.

Foundry worker Frank Oliveros, 44, said he saw a huge billow of smoke after the crash, then saw the wreckage and joined dozens of fellow employees and firefighters who rushed to the scene.

"I don't remember names ... faces," Oliveros told The Associated Press by telephone. "Our only interest was getting all the people out of there alive."

A nearby Puerto Ordaz hospital received injured people and bodies from the crash site. Hospital director Yanitza Rodriguez said many of the injuries were serious.

'Kicked his way in'
"There was a miracle here today, we have 36 people who survived, with problems, but alive thank God, all of them treatable and many of them already in their homes," local governor Francisco Rangel Gomez said. "The workers of Sidor are heroes, one of them even climbed on the plane and kicked his way in."

An official at the National Civil Aviation Institute said the pilot had radioed in a mayday signal seconds before the plane crashed.

"We presume (the accident) was caused by a failure in the airplane's controls," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

ATR, which makes 40-70 seat twin-engined turboprops, is a joint venture between Airbus parent company EADS and Italian aerospace group Finmeccanica.

French aviation investigators were due to arrive in Venezuela to visit the crash site later this week, Transport Minister Francisco Garces said.

President Hugo Chavez created Conviasa in 2004 to replace Venezuela's bankrupted flagship airline Viasa.

In the last major crash in Venezuela in 2008, another ATR-42 belonging to private local airline Santa Barbara with 46 passengers on board crashed into mountains, with no survivors.

In a statement, Chavez lamented the crash and sent his condolences to relatives of the victims.

"All Venezuelans are mourning, full of sorrow and tears as a result of this tragedy," Chavez wrote.