Naikuni said it had been difficult to spot, because it was hidden by a thick canopy of trees.

Search teams

"All I can say for now is that the wreckage of the plane has been located in the small village of Mbanga Pongo, in the Douala III subdivision. We are putting in place rescue measures," Hamidou Yaya Marafa, Cameroon's minister for territorial administration told a news conference.

"For now we cannot say whether there were any survivors or not. Access to the area is very difficult," he said. "We are beginning a new painful phase. Our task will be more difficult now, the task of recovering the corpses."

Thomas Sobakam, chief of meteorology at Douala airport, said: "We are actively looking for survivors."

"We are beginning a new painful phase. Our task will be more difficult now, the task of recovering the corpses."

Hamidou Yaya Marafa, Cameroonian government minister

The Nairobi-bound Boeing 737-800 departed from Douala airport early on Saturday, an hour late because of rain, with 105 passengers and nine crew members on board.

The airliner issued a distress call, but then lost contact with the radio tower between 11 and 13 minutes after takeoff.

It was not immediately clear if it had deviated at any point from its flight path, and officials did not discuss the question of why it travelled so short a distance in the elapsed time.

The search initially focused on the thickly forested mountains near the town of Lolodorf, about 140km southeast of Douala.

Naikuni said that, because of the swamp, vehicles could not drive all the way to the crash site, and rescue workers would have to complete the trip on foot in the dark.

'Close to airport'

Sobakam said officials had been led to believe the passenger jet had crashed in the vast, hard-to-access forest because of an incorrect satellite signal, possibly emitted from the aircraft.

He said: "It was the fishermen... who led us to the site. It's close enough that we could have seen it from the airport, but apparently there was no smoke or fire."

One of the many unanswered questions is why the aeroplane stopped emitting signals after an initial distress call.

The aircraft is equipped with an automatic device that should have kept up signals for another two days.

Captain Paul Mwangi, head of operations for Kenya Airways, said an exhausted battery could be one reason

Mwangi said: "It is very unlikely, but the device can actually be destroyed. The impact would have to be very, very severe."

Family members gathered at the Nairobi and Douala airports, many openly weeping.

Kezzia Musimbi Kadurenge, the mother of a missing crew member, said in Kenya: "Oh my last born, my last born, where am I going to go? I'm finished."