December 26, 1999

22 killed in Cuban plane crash in Venezuela

                  VALENCIA, Venezuela (AP) -- All 22 people aboard a Cuban airliner that crashed
                  in northern Venezuela were killed, including a nine-year-old girl who was on her way to
                  visit her parents after they lost their home in deadly mudslides, an official said Sunday.

                  The airplane went down late Saturday near the farming town of Bejuma, a mountainous
                  area about 100 miles southwest of the capital of Caracas.

                  "There are no survivors," Angel Rangel, Venezuela's national civil defense director,
                  told The Associated Press on Sunday.

                  Rangel said the passengers included four Venezuelans, four Cubans, two
                  Dutch and a 12 person flight crew.

                  The airplane, a Russian made YAK-42 that departed from Havana,
                  smashed head on into a mountain about 12 miles south of the airport in
                  Valencia, the capital of Carabobo state, Rangel said.

                  The girl, who had been living in Cuba with relatives, was on her way to see
                  her parents, who lost their home in floods and mudslides December 15 that
                  killed thousands of people and is being called the worst natural disaster in
                  Venezuela this century.

                  The girls' parents had been living in a shelter in Carabobo for those left
                  homeless by the floods. Her name was not immediately released.

                  Rangel said authorities were still investigating the cause of the crash.

                  Rescue teams rushed late Saturday to the crash site, said Henrique Salas
                  Feo, Carabobo's governor. He told Globovision TV that townspeople said
                  they saw a fire and heard an explosion.

                  "The airplane was left totally destroyed," Francisco Yanes, director
                  of the Valencia airport, told The Associated Press.

                  The control tower at the airport lost contact with the plane shortly before 8
                  p.m. EST, Salas said.

                  The aircraft, which was on a regularly scheduled flight unrelated to disaster
                  relief efforts. The Cuban government had earlier sent several planes to
                  Venezuela with doctors and relief supplies.

                  Many international flights have been rerouted from Caracas to Valencia
                  since the torrential rains struck and Caracas' international airport was closed
                  to all commercial traffic.

                  Authorities said the Valencia airport had been overwhelmed with air traffic,
                  with the number of daily flights jumping to 60 from the 25 it usually handles.
                  The number of passengers had increased to 5,000 from an average of 800
                  before the floods.