TORONTO, SEPT. 11 -- A Peruvian airliner flying from Malta to Miami with a crew of three and 15 airline employees and family members aboard crashed into the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Newfoundland today after reporting that it was running out of fuel, Canadian authorities said.

The Lima-based Faucett Airlines Boeing 727-200 three-engined jet, which had been leased to Air Malta for the summer season, was en route from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Gander, Newfoundland, for a refueling stop when its flight crew sent a distress signal at 3:20 p.m. that it was at 10,000 feet and nearly out of fuel, Rene Mercier, spokesman for Transport Canada, said.

The message, which was picked up by TWA and American airliners in the vicinity, was the last received from the missing Peruvian jet, Mercier said.

Rescue officials in Halifax said they assumed the jet ditched in the sea, but three Aurora search planes and three Labrador helicopters that arrived in the area 180 miles southeast of Newfoundland reported finding no trace of the missing plane.

Joseph Lazaga, regional manager for Faucett Airlines in Miami, said the jet left Reykjavik at 1:16 p.m. local time after refueling at the end of one ferry leg from Milan, Italy.

Lazaga, in a telephone interview, said he did not know how much fuel the aircraft took on at Reykjavik, but said, "The crew said they had some problem with fuel. They didn't have enough fuel."

Lazaga said the passengers were all Peruvian employees of Faucett or members of their families, including mechanics and other ground crew personnel who had been working in Malta.

He said Faucett, a privately owned airline, has been operating in Peru for 63 years and owns eight jetliners, including two Boeing 737s, two 727s and four DC-8s.

The Canadian Search and Rescue Coordinating Center in Halifax described weather conditions in the general area where the jet was last reported as good, but stressed that the search area is large.

Officials at the center said ships in the vicinity had also been alerted.

"The plane descended from 10,000 feet, and there was no further contact," said Maj. Walter Chipchase of the center.