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At least 250 killed in Algerian military plane crash

Marina Passos, Ennahar TV, AFP | A screen grab of the wreckage of an Algerian military plane near the capital Algiers on April 11, 2018

At least 257 people were killed when a military plane crashed soon after takeoff in a field near Boufarik airport just outside the capital Algiers, state media reported on Wednesday.

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Television footage showed crowds gathering around the smouldering wreckage near Boufarik airport southwest of Algiers. Hundreds of ambulances and dozens of fire trucks with their sirens wailing rushed to the scene of the crash.

A line of white body bags could be seen on the ground next to what media said was a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane.

A total of 257 people were killed, most of them military, the defence ministry said. Ten crew and other people described as family members also died, and a number of survivors were being treated at an army hospital, the ministry added.

The cause of the crash was unclear and an investigation has been opened.

Oussama Senouci reports on the crash from Algiers

The flight had just taken off from Boufarik, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of the capital Algiers, for a military base in Bechar in southwest Algeria, according to Mohammed Achour, chief spokesman for the civil protection agency. It was scheduled to make a layover in Tindouf in southern Algeria, home to many refugees from neighbouring Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco.

The crash occurred soon after take-off and the plane went down in an agricultural zone with no residents, Achour added.

Several witnesses told Algerian TV network Ennahar they saw flames coming out of one of the planes' engines just before it took off. Seconds later one of the wings reportedly caught fire.

"After taking off, with the plane at a height of 150 meters I saw the fire on its wing. The pilot avoided crashing on the road when he changed the flight path to the field," Abd El Karim, a witness, told the private channel.

Local officials said the victims' bodies have been transported to the Algerian army's central hospital for identification.

The secretary general of Algeria’s ruling FLN party, General Djamel, told Ennahar that the dead included 26 members of the Western Saharan Polisario independence movement.

A source close to Polisario said around 30 Western Saharan refugees who had received medical treatment in the Algerian capital were killed, including four children.

Wednesday’s crash was the first involving an Algerian military plane since February 2014, when a US-built C-130 Hercules turboprop slammed into a mountain in Algeria, killing 76 people and leaving just one survivor.

The heavy loss of life is certain to shake Algeria to the core. The National Liberation Army - which grew out of the fighting force that freed Algeria from French colonial rule - is revered by Algerians and widely credited with saving the nation from a deadly insurgency by Islamist extremists in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who presided over the end of the conflict, has declared three days of national mourning and prayers for the dead on Friday.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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