54 killed as plane explodes in midair

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The Independent Online

Up to 54 people are believed to have died when a Ukrainian-crewed Antonov aircraft exploded after take-off in eastern Angola.

Up to 54 people are believed to have died when a Ukrainian-crewed Antonov aircraft exploded after take-off in eastern Angola.

The Antonov 26, which was on a round trip from the capital, Luanda, with stopovers in three diamond centres, came down 20 minutes after leaving Saurimo on Tuesday evening. Diamond industry sources said the route taken by the aircraft made it likely that it was carrying gems.

Early reports said all those on board were Russian, but this was denied by the Russian embassy in Luanda.

There was speculation that the plane was shot down - either by government troops or rebels from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), who have been at war for 25 years.

It is customary in Angola for planes to take off and land in a "corkscrew" movement to minimise the danger from surface-to-air missiles. But neither human nor mechanical failure have been ruled out. Air transport in Angola is provided by eastern Europeans flying ageing Soviet aircraft in skies with no air traffic control.

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