Death toll unclear after plane crashes in Goma

The crash of a Congolese Hew Bora airline plane into a Goma market on Tuesday reportedly killed at least 21 people but no passengers, says the airline. The Congolese Red Cross claims the death toll is now over 70.


Investigators Wednesday were to start probing the causes of a passenger jet crash on a crowded market in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo that killed at least 21 people the day before.

Rescue workers had recovered 21 bodies from the crash site, the chairman of the airline said Tuesday. But they had so far been unable to establish if any of the plane's passengers were among the victims, or if all those killed were on the ground at the time of the crash.

The DC-9 jet crashed into the Birere market area of Goma, the capital of the eastern province of Nord-Kivu at around 2:30 pm (1230 GMT) and burst into flames.

"There are 21 confirmed dead, whose bodies have been recovered and taken to the morgue, but it's not possible at the moment to say if any of these are passengers," said Stavros Papaioannou of Hewa Bora Airlines.

"There were 85 people on board: 79 passengers and six members of crew. The crew are all fine. We are trying to contact all the passengers. So far, we have contacted 53 of them, who are all right," he said.

"We know that there were seven expatriates on board including four Americans, none of whom was killed," he added.

At least 70 injured had been admitted to hospital in Goma, most of them local residents, according to a hospital official.

Earlier, various airport sources had reported "dozens" dead in the disaster, which saw the plane crash-land into houses and a market not far from the end of the runway before bursting into flames.

The causes of the accident were not known late Tuesday, but Papaioannou said the crew had heard an explosion at the rear of the plane as it reached a speed of around 100 knots.

"It needed to reach 126 knots to take off," the Hewa Bora chief said. "The pilot braked, but the runway was wet, the aircraft skidded and he lost control."

Passenger Desire Buhendwa, a 36-year-old Congolese computer engineer, told AFP in Goma general hospital: "There were flames coming from the left wing. There was panic in the plane. I ran to the front. Crew members opened a door and I jumped. I fell onto the ground and saw the plane continue to move forward, then catch fire."

The plane was heading for the capital Kinshasa, but it was not clear how many passengers had already disembarked at Goma.

It was the fifth fatal plane crash in DR Congo since June last year. The last was in October when a cargo aircraft ploughed into a working-class district of Kinshasa and killed at least 50 people.

UN fire crews were sent to the crash site to help put out the blaze, said Tahirou Diao, a spokesperson in Goma for the UN peacekeeping mission in the country.

The plane's wings were ripped off in the crash and its undercarriage and tail wrecked, leaving only its nose visible in the debris amid the smell of smoke and fuel.

Witnesses saw a huge plume of smoke and flames rising from the area after the crash.

Tuesday's accident came less than six months after an Antonov 26 from a private Congolese airline crashed in a district of the capital, Goma, on October 4, killing at least 50 people.

The transport minister was sacked but there has still been no major overhaul of air transport safety in a country where most of the aircraft are ageing Soviet-era jets.

All the country's airlines, around 50, have been banned by the European Union from flying in their airspace.

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