17 feared dead as aid plane crashes in Congo

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The Independent Online

17 people were killed when a humanitarian aid flight crashed on a ridge in eastern Congo, the US-based group that operated the route said today.





The 21-seat Beechcraft 1900 aircraft went missing in bad weather late yesterday with two crew and 15 passengers on board, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.



It was found this morning, 9.4 miles northwest of the airstrip at Bukavu in eastern Congo, its intended destination, Elisabeth Byrs told journalists in Geneva.



Air Serv International, which runs the twice-weekly aid delivery between Kisangani and Bukavu, said in a statement that the plane was on a steep ridge and that helicopter surveys suggested all 17 aboard had died.



"According to the information in our possession, there were no survivors," Amy Cathey, a manager for Air Serv in the regional capital, Goma, told Congo's UN-funded radio station.



The UN teams were "securing the site and searching for and recovering victims' bodies," Cathey said.



The UN's Byrs said she had no confirmation of casualties. The identity of the passengers and crew was not immediately disclosed.



Air Serv International, based in Warrenton, Virginia, describes itself as a not-for-profit aviation organisation that supports humanitarian programmes worldwide.



No Air Serv personnel were involved in the crash, spokeswoman Suzanne Musgrave told The Associated Press by telephone from Warrenton.



She said the plane was being flown by a South African commercial company, Cem Air.



A senior official with Cem Air confirmed that it owned the plane used for the flight and that two of its crew were flying the aircraft.



"I'm in contact with the South African air force base there, and they haven't given me any information about any survivors or whether we know it was our airplane," Cem Air's chief pilot MJ Booysen said by telephone from South Africa.



"The airplane at this point is missing, but we are on standby for further information," he said.

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