Passenger plane crashes in Congo

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The Independent Online

53 people were feared dead today after a plane crashed as it tried to land in bad weather at Kisangani airport in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Congolese airline operating the flight said.

"The pilot tried to land but apparently they didn't touch the runway," Stavros Papaioannou, chief executive of Hewa Bora airline, told Reuters by telephone.

"53 dead, that is the last figure I have," he said later, cautioning that the toll was likely to be revised.

Separately, government spokesman Lambert Mende said he had been told that rescue services had pulled 40 survivors from the wreckage of the Boeing 727.

The accident at the international airport of Kisangani, a local commercial centre and river port town, is the latest in a string of disasters that has saddled the vast central African country with one of the worst air safety records in the world.

Hewa Bora is on a European Union list of airlines banned due to security concerns, as are all carriers certified in Congo.

It is the second fatal accident involving the airline in three years, after its DC-9 airliner ploughed into a suburb of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, killing 44, in 2008.

In April of this year, 32 people were killed when a United Nations plane crashed as it tried to land at the airport serving Congo's capital Kinshasa. The operator of the plane was Georgian flag carrier Airzena Georgian Airways.

According to Hewa Bora's website, the airline has two Boeing 727s, both configured as passenger planes with 137 economy seats and 12 business class seats. They fly purely within Congo.

Once the world's best-selling airliner, the Boeing 727 first flew in 1963 and was designed for short- and medium-haul routes. The last aircraft was delivered in 1984.