Dozens killed as Congo plane crashes

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The Independent Online

A Congolese jetliner carrying around 85 people failed to take off from an airport today, crashing at high speed into a busy market neighbourhood at the end of the runway, officials said.

Dozens were said to have been killed, though casualty figures varied widely.

An airline official said 60 people had survived, but local officials said dozens of bodies were pulled from the wreckage, though it was unclear if they were passengers or people on the ground.

Employees at the aid agency World Vision, which has an office less than half a mile from the crash site, said the plane "failed to leave the ground," ploughing instead through wooden houses and shops in the highly populated Birere market of Goma.

The plane appeared to have been "totally flattened" by the impact, said Rachel Wolff, a US-based spokeswoman for the international aid organisation who has been in contact with her colleagues in Congo.

A former pilot who survived the crash, Dunia Sindani, gave a similar account in an interview broadcast over a local UN radio station. The plane suffered a problem in one of its wheels - possibly a flat tyre - and did not gain the strength to lift off, Sindani said.

At the crash site, smoke and flames engulfed the charred ruins of the aircraft, which appeared to have broken in two when it slammed into the rooftops of about 10 cement homes just outside the airport, destroying them instantly.

The plane was operated by the private Congolese company, Hewa Bora, and was headed to the central city of Kisangani, then the capital, Kinshasa. Hewa Bora's Dirk Cramers said 53 passengers and seven crew were taken from the site and were at local hospitals.

Julien Mpaluku, the governor of the province, said there were 79 passengers onboard and six crew members.

"We have already picked up many bodies - dozens of bodies. There are a lot of flames, which makes it difficult to know if the bodies we are picking up are those of passengers of the plane or else passers-by or people that lived in the area where the plane crashed," Mpaluku said.

The plane faltered as it tried to take off, the governor said. The runway used to continue into the neighbourhood, but was partially blocked by lava from a 2001 volcanic eruption in Goma, a town 700 miles east of the capital, Kinshasa.

"The plane appears to have missed its take off and crashed in a populated neighbourhood," said Mpaluku.

Among the survivors is one of the pilots, he said.

Last Friday the European Union added Hewa Bora Airways to its blacklist of airlines banned from flying in the EU, without specifying a reason.

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