The plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, was in route from Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City, Panama to Fort de France, Martinique (FDF). The pilots reported trouble with one engine, and later the other engine as well. They diverted the plane to Maracaibo for an emergency landing. After a 7,000 feet per minute dive with both engines in flames, the plane crashed at about 03:45 local time (07:45 UTC) into a field of La Cucharita cattle ranch near Machiques, in the western state of Zulia, Venezuela (about 30 kilometres from the Colombian border).
Nearly all the passengers were French citizens from Martinique, but a few were Panamanian and Colombian. The crew was Colombian. The flight was chartered by the Globe Trotters de Rivière Salée travel agency in Martinique. Most of the passengers were tourists returning from a week's vacation in Panama.