Algeria has started three days of national mourning for the 77 passengers who died in a military plane crash in the country’s northeast, as a commission of inquiry was launched to determine the cause of the accident.
An Algerian military statement said on Tuesday that 78 people were on board the C-130 that was flying through poor weather when it crashed into a mountain shortly before it was due to land in the city of Constantine.
By early evening, the emergency services had recovered 76 bodies from the crash site, the AFP news agency reported.
The sole survivor, a soldier, was taken to a military hospital in Constantine, suffering from head trauma, public radio reported.
Most of the passengers were off-duty military personnel and their families, who boarded the transport plane from Algeria’s southern Tamanrasset province.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that the official mourning would begin on Wednesday and praised the dead soldiers as “martyrs”.
Recovery teams have located one of the aircraft’s two black box flight recorders, Algerian newspaper El Watan reported on its website.
The defence ministry said in a statement that “a commission of inquiry was created and sent to the scene to determine the causes and exact circumstances of this tragic accident”.
Witnesses in the area told the Associated Press news agency that the plane clipped the mountain before it crashed and local reporters said it was seen to be broken into three parts.
Tamanrasset, in the far south of Algeria, near the border with Mali, is the main base for the country’s southern military operations.
Extra troops and equipment have been stationed there in recent months as part of efforts to beef up surveillance of Algeria’s frontiers with Mali and Libya, following a deadly hostage seige at a desert gas plant in January 2013.
The crash is the worst in Algeria since 2003 when an Air Algerie jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Tamanrasset, killing 102 people.