Kenya jet crashes with 114 aboard
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) "” A Kenya Airways flight with more than 100 people aboard crashed in southern Cameroon, officials said Saturday.
The plane lost contact with airport controllers soon after taking off around midnight Friday, and crashed near the southern coastal town of Niete, state radio said. But later information suggested the crash was further inland, close to the town of Lolodorf, a government spokesman said.
Alex Bayeck, a regional communications officer, said he did not have any information on whether there were survivors. He spoke by telephone from a vehicle en route to the crash site.
The plane took off from Cameroon's commercial center of Douala en route to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Kenya Airways said earlier Saturday. Lolodorf is about 155 miles southeast of Douala.
Cameroon's military dispatched helicopters from the Douala airport to the crash site, an airport worker said, speaking anonymously because she was not authorized to talk to the press. The first group of helicopters left early in the morning, she said. Military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Kenya | Boeing 737 | Airways | NAIROBI | Cameroon
"The last message was received in Douala after takeoff and thereafter the tower was unable to contact the plane," Kenya Airways CEO Titus Naikuni said in the Kenyan capital.
At a news conference soon after the Cameroon radio report, Naikuni said he could not immediately confirm the plane had crashed.
Kenyan airline officials said the Boeing 737-800 was carrying 114 people, including 105 passengers, from 23 countries. Naikuni said the plane was six months old.
A Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent, Anthony Mitchell, was believed on aboard.
Relatives waiting at Nairobi's airport began wailing when television news stations reported that the plane had crashed in West Africa. Dozens of family members cried and collapsed in the airport terminal while awaiting official word from the airline.
The flight departed Douala at 12:05 a.m. and was to arrive in Nairobi at 6:15 a.m. The flight originated in Ivory Coast but stopped in Cameroon to pick up more passengers, the airline said.
Weeping relatives walked into the arrivals hall at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport along with officials wearing yellow vests that said "St. John Ambulance First Aid." At a crisis center at a downtown Nairobi hotel, a woman was screaming in the lobby before being led into an elevator, trailed by photographers.
Sobbi Mulindi, who said he was the crisis manager, said eight families had gathered at the hotel.
The last crash of an international Kenya Airways flight was on Jan. 30, 2000, when Flight 431 was taking off from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on its way to Nairobi. Investigators blamed a faulty alarm and pilot error for that crash, which killed 169 people.
The pilot of a Kenya Airways plane that crashed in Cameroon this month decided to take off in stormy weather while other flights waited for conditions to improve, Cameroon's civil aviation chief said on Tuesday.
Cameroon has launched an investigation into the crash of the six-month-old Boeing 737-800, which crashed into swampy jungle not far from Douala Airport shortly after taking off around midnight on May 4-5. All 114 people on board were killed.
Relatives of the victims have criticized Cameroonian authorities over their handling of the accident. Search parties took nearly two days to locate the plane wreckage, which was found less than 6 km from the end of the runway.
The head of Cameroon's Civil Aviation Authority, Ignatius Sama Juma, said the Douala control tower had advised the captain of Kenya Airways Flight 507 of the stormy weather conditions.
"Certainly, there was a storm problem," Sama Juma told Radio France Internationale, adding that only the official inquiry would determine whether the crash was caused by a technical fault or human error.
Sama Juma said the captains of two other planes also due to leave Douala the same night both decided to wait for weather conditions to improve. They left safely.
"The control tower gave all the meteorological information to the commander of (the Kenya Airways) flight... but he decided to take off... it was his decision," Sama Juma said.
There were angry scenes near the site of the crash on Monday when Cameroonian soldiers prevented a group of relatives of crash victims from visiting the location because they said the accident site required further work.
The dead passengers came from 27 nations, mostly African, but with others from China, India, Europe and elsewhere.
Only one "black box", the flight data recorder, has been recovered. Rescuers were looking for the cockpit voice recorder.
Responding to criticism that Cameroonian authorities wasted nearly two days searching for the plane 150 km from the crash site, Sama Juma said the automatic distress beacon on board had stopped transmitting soon after take-off.
"When the crash took place... we think the beacon was immediately destroyed... it stopped transmitting, so that made precise location more difficult," the official said.
He added the search was misled by data provided by a satellite tracking station in Toulouse.
Sama Juma said Douala Airport did not have a ground surveillance radar, which would have made it much easier to locate the wreckage. "It's expensive to install surveillance radar," he said.
|Powered by Social Strata|