Dozens killed in Sudan air crash

Andrew Heavens,Reuters
Wednesday 11 June 2008 07:12 BST

A Sudanese airliner coming from Amman and Damascus burst into flames after landing in Khartoum last night, killing at least 33 of the 217 people on board.

Doctors and officials said the local mortuary had received 28 bodies by 3am today (midnight GMT) and witnesses said they saw rescue teams remove five more bodies from the charred wreckage of the plane after daybreak.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it had counted 113 survivors but that other people had left the site of the incident and gone straight home without informing the authorities.

Presidential adviser Ghazi Salahaddin said that 50 to 60 people were unaccounted for. In the confusion during the night other officials gave contradictory figures.

The nationalities of the dead were not immediately known but diplomats who have examined the manifest said that almost all the names appear to be Arabic. Airport officials said they thought the vast majority were Sudanese.

The Sudan Airways plane, identified by Sudanese television only as an Airbus without any model details, was carrying 203 passengers and 14 crew on the flight from the Jordanian capital.

A dust storm and heavy rain hit the airport on Tuesday and the plane was initially diverted to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

Sudan's Minister of State for Transport, Mabrouk Mubarak Salim, said there was an explosion in the airliner's right wing engine area. "So far we don't have precise information but we think the weather is a main reason for what happened," he said.

Sudanese television showed emergency workers using hoses to spray water on the burning fuselage of the airliner.

"The operation to recover bodies from the plane is going on now," police deputy director general Al Adel Ajeb said in a television interview. "It is a difficult operation because some bodies are completely burned and there are body parts."

One passenger said the plane had tried to land at Khartoum airport "but then the captain told us we couldn't land because of bad weather".

He said the plane then flew to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan before returning to Khartoum an hour later.

"When (the pilot) tried to land there was a crash," the passenger told Sudan Television.

Another survivor, Al Haj Bashir, said the landing in Khartoum was "not normal" and that there was "an explosion in the right wing" two or three minutes after the plane landed.

At its height the fire appeared to be consuming the fuselage and cockpit area. The emergency crews eventually managed to extinguish the blaze.

Television pictures showed emergency escape chutes at the side of the blazing aircraft and ambulances on the tarmac.

A spokesman for Sudan's civil aviation authorities said all but one of the crew had been found alive.

"The task of counting the survivors has been complicated because in the alarm and confusion they dispersed and some of them seem to have left the airport area," said the spokesman.

"Whether (the fire was due to) a technical reason we don't know yet," airport director Yusuf Ibrahim told Sudanese TV.

"The plane was coming from Amman and Syria ... It landed safely at Khartoum airport and they talked to the control tower which told them where to taxi. At this moment an explosion happened," he said.

Five years ago, a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 crashed shortly after takeoff near Port Sudan, killing 104 passengers and the crew of 11.

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