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Africa
Scores dead in DR Congo plane crash
Confusion over toll as at least 50 survivors are pulled out of wreckage near Kisangani airport.
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2011 03:50

An airliner has ploughed into dense forest as it tried to land during a rainstorm in the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing at least 74 people on board, the Congolese transport ministry said.

There were 51 survivors, a ministry statement said on Friday. 

The chief executive of the Hewa Bora airline involved in the crash had said earlier that were 110 people on board the plane, of whom 53 had died and 57 survived.

But a spokesman for the transport ministry, Gudile Bualya, accused the airline of underestimating the number of passengers.

The stated seating capacity of the Boeing 727 plane that crashed is 149. 

Hewa Bora's website states that its two Boeing 727s are both configured with 137 economy class and 12 business class seats. 

The accident at the international airport of Kisangani, a commercial centre and river port town in the east, is the latest in a string of disasters in the vast central African country.

Many private Congolese passenger and freight airlines use the facility since road access is measured in days and river access is measured in weeks.

"The pilot tried to land but apparently they didn't touch the runway," Stavros Papaioannou, chief executive of Hewa Bora airline, told Reuters by telephone.

 

DRC minister of communications speaks to AJE

Hewa Bora is on a European Union list of airlines banned due to security concerns, as are all carriers certified in Congo.

Dismal safety record

Lambert Mende Omalanga, the minister of communications, told Al Jazeera that there was no connection between the banning and the spate of accidents. He said the reason for the banning was because of a "commercial war" and that they [airlines] were doing well at home.

It is the second fatal accident involving the airline in three years, after its DC-9 airliner ploughed into a suburb of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, killing 44, in 2008.

Mende said rescue services had pulled 50 survivors from the Boeing 727. 

Jean-Paul Bongisa, a local reporter for Congolese state television at the scene of the crash, said the rescue was being hampered by difficulties in reaching the wreckage, some 200 metres from the runway in dense equatorial forest.

Congo is roughly the same size as Western Europe but rail and road links through its jungles are few, so air and river travel are usually the only viable options for long distance journeys.

In April, 32 people were killed when a UN plane crashed as it tried to land at the airport serving Congo's capital Kinshasa. The operator of the plane was Georgian flag carrier Airzena Georgian Airways.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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