Rescue teams yesterday recovered the bodies of nine or 10 people after finding the wreckage of a plane carrying some of Australia's top mining executives that crashed in the dense forests of central Africa.
The wreckage was discovered close to the border between the Congo Republic and Cameroon following a ground and air search by both countries. The plane, carrying 11 people including Ken Talbot, one of Australia's richest men, disappeared from the radar 30 minutes after leaving the Cameroon capital of Yaounde bound for the north-west of neighbouring Congo Republic.
"For the moment between nine and 10 corpses have been retrieved," Cameroon's Information Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, said in the Cameroon capital. Cameroon's government said those on board were six Australians, two French, an American and two Britons.
In Australia questions were being asked as to why the businessmen broke the mining industry precautionary practice of avoiding sending senior executives on the same flights in case of accident.
The aircraft, chartered from a Congo-Brazzaville company, was carrying six Australians, two French, two Britons and an American, most of whom were from Sundance Resources Ltd, a mining concern based in western Australia, when it disappeared over dense jungle on Saturday.
Sundance Resources, whose shares were suspended on the Australian stock exchange, said that most of those on board the flight were visiting the company's iron ore project in Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville. It said its African operations were being halted while the search went on.
It is not unusual for small planes to disappear in central-western Africa. Search parties can take days to locate light aircraft which have crashed in the rainforest. Authorities had likened the hunt for the propeller plane to "searching for a needle in the forest".
With little in the way of roads and comparatively few commercial flights connecting the more remote outposts in either country, private planes are the usual mode of travel for mining companies and others. It took two days for searchers to find a Kenya Airways Boeing 737 that crashed in Cameroon in 2007.
Stephen Smith, the Australian Foreign Minister, said the plane made two routine radio calls during its flight, one of them 30 minutes after take-off. Neither of the calls indicated that the plane was in trouble. Weather conditions were generally good at the time of the flight.
Mr Bakary said the bodies had not yet been positively identified and that authorities were waiting to study the plane's black box for indications on why it crashed.