Cargo plane crashes in Uganda's Lake Victoria

Godfrey Olukya,Associated Press
Monday 09 March 2009 10:54

A cargo plane carrying equipment for peacekeepers in Somalia caught fire and crashed into Uganda's Lake Victoria shortly after take-off today, authorities said. There were at least seven people onboard but conflicting reports on casualties.

Uganda's Civil Aviation Authority said there were seven passengers and four crew members onboard and it was possible that there may be survivors. It did not report any deaths.

An army spokesman had previously said everyone onboard died. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in numbers offered by the army and the aviation authority.

The aviation authority said the Ilyushin 76 was carrying equipment for Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia. The cause of the crash was under investigation and police said investigators had been sent to the site.

Army spokesman Maj. Felix Kulaigye said there were seven people onboard and a Burundian, a Ugandan and a South African were among the dead. Four crew members whose nationalities are unknown were also killed, he said.

Kulaigye said eyewitnesses reported seeing the plane catch fire in the air before it crashed into the lake. It was carrying water purifiers, pipes and other equipment for Ugandan troops who were part of an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, he said.

Uganda has around 600 peacekeepers in Somalia, where the weak U.N.-backed government is battling an Islamic insurgency. It is preparing to send another 800 when funding for transport and logistics is in place. The peacekeepers do not protect civilians, but guard the airport, port and main buildings where the Somali government is based.

Burundi also has 1,700 soldiers in Somalia. Burundi army spokesman Adolphe Manirakiza said three Burundian peacekeepers were aboard the plane and they were feared dead. He said the plane crashed five minutes after takeoff.

South African officials said they were investigating reports that a South African was onboard the plane.

Air crashes are not unusual in Africa, where many airlines fly old or outdated aircraft — often from the former Soviet Union — and infrastructure is often not properly maintained. Some airlines are banned from flying in Europe.

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