Vice Minister: aviation authorities still investigating cause of Nazca Lines plane crash that killed five French tourists

Authorities were still trying to determine the cause Thursday of the plane crash a day earlier that claimed the lives of five French tourists returning from a flyover of the Nazca lines.

“The pilot was qualified and the plane was flying an established route during a corresponding flight time, so there still is no determined cause for the accident,” Vice Transportation Minister Carlos Puga told Canal N news.

The accident occurred around 3:40 p.m. Wednesday, approximately 10 minutes after takeoff, when the aircraft aborted its flyover of the Nazca Lines and attempted to return to the airport, reporting a mechanical failure.

The Aero Ica Cessna 206 reportedly struck a high tension wire and crashed into the brick wall adjacent to kilometer 456 of the Southern Pan-American Highway. Killed in the crash were French tourists Yollande Paimparay, 62, her husband Robert, 66, Christine Maze, 63, Marie-France Lethuillier, 59, and Anne-Marie Soudant de Pelchin, 61.

The pilot, 33-year-old Carlos Bartra Basurto, survived the crash and was listed in stable condition in the Essalud health clinic in the southern coastal city of Ica.

The accident was front page news on almost all of Peru’s major daily newspapers and was a topic of converstation throughout the day on news radio, where experts and commentators tried to gauge how bad a blow this would land to Peru’s tourism industry. It was the fourth aviation “incident” in as many months involving tourism flights over the Nazca lines.

On March 27, another tourist plane owned by Aero-Palcazú, also carrying five French tourists, made an emergency landing on the Pan-American Highway when it ran out of fuel. On December 4 and December 2, two Aerocóndor planes — one carrying four French tourists and the other carrying a dozen Japanese and American tourists — each executed emergency landings on the same busy highway. There were no casualties in any of those cases.

“We are maintaining a constant watch on all of the (airline) companies in the zone and all of the incidents that have occurred during the last few months,” Puga said. “All the incidents that have occurred in the last four months have been investigated. In some cases the pilot has been suspended, in other cases the companies have been put at the disposition of the violations board to determine the penalty warranted.”

Scores of planes conduct short daily flyover tours of the Nazca Lines, a series of complex and mysterious designs etched into the desert sand, which can only be seen properly from the air.

Located approximately 250 miles south of Peru’s capital, Lima, the now world-famous Nazca Lines were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. There are several theories as to their purpose, ranging from landing strips for aliens to a giant seismograph. Experts affirm that they were created during the time of the Nazca culture, a pre-Inca civilization which dominated southern Peru from 200 A.C. to 650 D.C.

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