32 die in army band plane crash

Eindhoven (Reuter) - Thirty-two people were killed and nine seriously injured when a Belgian military plane crashed and burst into flames at Eindhoven airport in the southern Netherlands yesterday.

The aircraft, a 26-year-old C-130 Hercules carrying members of a Dutch military brass band from a performance at Villafranca in Italy, banked steeply as it came in to land and plunged into a field in the airstrip's military section. Forty or 41 people were on board. All four Belgian crew were among the dead.

Emergency services brought the fire under control within 50 minutes. A makeshift mortuary was set up at the airbase, while the injured, suffering from second and third-degree burns, were ferried to nearby hospitals and specialist burns units by ambulance and helicopter.

Lieutenant-General Droste, commanding officer of the Royal Dutch Air Force, said: "After, or during, the landing something went wrong - dramatically wrong.

"Traffic control saw it happen but report no warning from the cockpit," he said, adding that the plane has appeared to be functioning normally until it attempted to land.

Lieutenant Droste said a team of Dutch and Belgian experts had been set up to investigate the cause of the crash.

Eyewitnesses said the plane appeared to abort a landing and careered into a field.

"The plane wanted to land and then took off again and flipped over with its wing clipping the grass and then there was a big flame," one boy at the scene told Dutch television.

"It was making weird manoeuvres. At the start of the runway it came down and rolled over. The tail came off and the left wing was also badly damaged," another eyewitness said.

The Belgian Defence Minister, Jean-Pol Poncelet, told Belgian radio that it was the first crash by a Belgian military Hercules for 25 years, adding that the plane, one of 12 operated by the military, had been undergoing modernisation.

The accident was the worst air disaster in the Netherlands since an El Al Jumbo Jet crashed into a block of flats in Amsterdam in 1992.

That crash claimed at least 43 lives, but a definitive total has never been established by investigators.

A Dutch government spokesman said Queen Beatrix was dismayed at the tragedy and expressed her sympathy for the relatives of the dead and injured.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok, interrupted his holiday to travel to the crash scene.