ROME (AP) — The pilot of the plane that disappeared Jan. 4 over Venezuela with the CEO of Italian fashion house Missoni and five others on board had an expired medical fitness certificate, and the company operating the aircraft didn't yet have permission to fly, Italy's air safety agency said Tuesday.
The National Flight Safety Agency stressed that at the moment, neither factor "represents a direct, correlating cause" of the disappearance, but are merely facts gathered in the investigation.
The BN-2 Islander dropped off radar screens soon after takeoff Jan. 4 from the resort islands of Los Roques about 13 miles (20 kilometers) to the south during a flight to Caracas. It was carrying two crew members and four Italian tourists, including Vittorio Missoni, CEO of his family's fashion company.
Italy sent four experts to help with the search, and on Tuesday the air safety agency reported details that have been gathered so far.
In a statement, the agency said the company operating the plane didn't yet have the certificate required for aircraft operators.
Asdrubal Bermudez, president and owner of the company Transaereo 5074, told The Associated Press last week that while the company hadn't yet received certification as a small airline the plane had met all safety requirements.
The Italian agency also said the pilot's psychological-physical fitness certificate expired on Nov. 30.
The agency noted that the pilot was over age 65 but that in Venezuela pilots that age are allowed to fly within national airspace. Bermudez told the AP that pilot Hernan Merchan, 72, was an experienced pilot for Venezuelan airlines as well as the state oil company.
Seven minutes after takeoff, the pilot radioed the control tower that he was at 5,000 feet and 10 nautical miles from the Los Roques airport, the agency said. The pilot was told to next contact air traffic control at Caracas' Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia — contact that was never established.
The last radar readings showed the aircraft still accelerating at 5,400 feet, after which time it started to quickly loose altitude and speed, progressively veering to the right until it disappeared from the radar.