Dozens escape Sudan plane crash

June 11, 2008 5:37:16 AM PDT
Investigators examined the scorched hull of a jetliner Wednesday to determine what caused the plane to veer off a runway and burst into flames, killing at least 29 people, officials said. Sudan Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdel Hafez Abdel Rahim Mahmoud told The Associated Press that at least 29 people died inside the burning plane and 171 managed to escape.

Fourteen people were still unaccounted for after Tuesday night's fire, he said.

Many passengers fleeing the burning plane did not bother to pass through customs, making the toll initially difficult to ascertain, officials said.

The Sudan Airways jet appeared to have gone off the runway after landing at Khartoum International Airport, and several loud explosions resounded as fire raced through the aircraft, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.

The roaring blaze dwarfed the Airbus A310's shattered fuselage as firefighters sprayed water, Sudanese TV footage showed.

Ambulances and fire trucks rushed to the scene, and media were kept away.

One survivor said the landing was "rough," and there was a sharp impact several minutes later.

"The right wing was on fire," said the passenger, who did not give his name. He said smoke got into the cockpit and some people started opening the emergency exits. Soon, fire engulfed the plane, he said.

"As we landed, the engine burst into flame - I was sitting right next to it," passenger Kamal Eddin Mohammed told the pan-Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera. "It was horror inside the plane."

Sudan's aviation authority asked its counterpart in Amman, Jordan, for the passenger manifest to determine who was actually on board, as the original was destroyed in the crash, SUNA reported.

The flight originated in Damascus, Syria, then stopped in Amman.

Al-Tayeb told the official SUNA news agency Wednesday morning that the fire had been extinguished and civil defense officials were examining the wreckage to figure out what caused the crash, which occurred late Tuesday.

Reports differed on the role the weather may have played in the crash.

A sandstorm had hit the area with 20 mph winds between 2 p.m.

and 3 p.m. and there was a thunderstorm and similar winds at the time of the crash around 9 p.m. local time, said Elaine Yang, a meteorologist with the San Francisco-based Weather Underground, a private weather service.

The head of Sudanese police, Mohammad Najib, said bad weather "caused the plane to crash land, split into two and catch fire."

Youssef Ibrahim, director of the Khartoum airport, blamed the accident on technical problems, but didn't elaborate. He told Sudanese TV that the plane "landed safely" and the pilot was talking to the control tower and getting further instructions when the accident occurred.

"One of the (plane's) engines exploded and the plane caught fire," Ibrahim said.

Due to inclement weather, the aircraft stopped at Port Sudan Airport along the Red Sea, picking up 35 passengers and refueling before heading to Khartoum.

Khartoum's airport reopened at noon Wednesday.

State television initially said about 100 were killed, but officials later put the toll at dozens without being more precise.

Deputy parliament speaker Mohammed al-Hassan al-Ameen said "about 30 people" died, while police spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdel Majid al-Tayeb said 23 bodies were brought to the morgue.

Sudan has a poor aviation safety record. In May, a plane crash in a remote area of southern Sudan killed 24 people, including key members of the southern Sudanese government. In July 2003, a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 en route from Port Sudan to Khartoum crashed soon after takeoff, killing all 115 people on board.

The Airbus A310 is a twin-engine, widebody plane used by a number of carriers around the world. Typically configured with about 220 seats, it is a shorter version of the popular A300.

Airbus said in a statement that it was sending a team of specialists to Khartoum to help in the investigation. It said the plane involved in the accident was 18 years old and had been operated by Sudan Airways since September.

France's Inquiry and Analysis Bureau, known by its French initials BEA, is also taking part in the investigation because the plane was made by France-based Airbus.


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