South Africans killed in UN crash

2011-04-05 07:00

Kinshasa – South Africans are believed to be among the victims of a United Nations plane crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Eyewitness News reported that the International Relations Department confirmed that South Africans were on board the plane that crashed yesterday.

It was not clear how many South Africans were on board, but an unconfirmed figure put it at three.

Thirty-two people including UN officials and peacekeepers were killed when a plane crashed on landing in heavy rain in the DRC capital, the United Nations said.

Only one person survived the crash in Kinshasa, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said at the world body’s headquarters.

It is one of the worst disasters ever involving UN transport.

The plane was carrying UN officials and peackeepers travelling from the northeastern city of Kisangani to Kinshasa’s N’Djili airport, according to a statement from the UN mission known as Monusco.

“We can now confirm that there was only one survivor from the 33 people on the Monusco plane which crashed today,” Haq said, giving the first official toll.

Their nationalities were not immediately released.

An AFP reporter earlier saw 16 bodies pulled from the plane, which broke into pieces on impact as the pilot tried to land in torrential rain.

An airport source who was able to get close to the debris told AFP later that 26 people had died and six were seriously injured but the figures could not be independently verified.

She said she had seen three or four survivors on stretchers.

Rescuers and firefighters had to “cut out seats to free people trapped inside,” she said on condition of anonymity.

“The accident was caused by the rain,” she added. “The plane broke up completely. A part of the cockpit rolled along the ground for 800 metres.”

“Six to eight people were ejected from the plane when it broke in two,” she said.

The Fokker 100 aircraft burst into flames on crashing but firefighters managed to put out the fire quickly, aided by the heavy rains, she said.

The United States voiced its condolences.

“We’re deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life in the UN-contracted plane that was flying into Kinshasa,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, adding it was not yet known if any of the victims were Americans.

The injured were taken to the Biamba Marie Mutombo hospital in the town of Masina, about 15 minutes from Kinshasa airport.

Aircraft accidents are common in Congo but this was the first involving a plane from Monusco, officially called the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that was set up in 1999.

The UN has a fleet of more than a dozen planes in the country with which the mission transports its personnel, journalists and staff of international and local non-governmental organisations.

Plane accidents are common in war-scarred Congo, and all the country’s aviation companies, about 50, are blacklisted by the European Union and barred from its airspace.

Accidents are caused by a combination of factors including that old and dilapidated planes are often overloaded with freight, operators flout safety rules and bad weather.

The UN has one of its biggest peace missions in the vast central African country, which is five times the size of France.

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