Dozens killed in Congo plane crash, transport minister fired

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

An Antonov An-26.

More than 50 people have been killed after a plane crashed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, causing president Joseph Kabila to fire his transport minister.

The Russian-built Antonov An-26 twin-turboprop cargo plane went down into a market in the African nation's capital, Kinshasa, killing 51 and injuring at least 25, mostly on the ground. Of the plane's crew, only the Congolese flight engineer survived the accident.

President Joseph Kabila, photographed in 2003.

The Congolese air safety record is one of the worst in the world, and this is the latest and deadliest in a string of recent aviation accidents and incidents. According to presidential spokesman Kudura Kasongo, the reason behind the sacking of transport minister Remy Henri Kuseyo Gatanga is "for being incapable of organising the aviation sector".

Transport Minister Rémy Kuseyo had previously said the aircraft should never have taken off due to a ban imposed three weeks ago on the use of Antonov aircraft in the country due to safety concerns. He feels his dismissal is unjust, saying "Measures had been taken... "I had taken measures, but I am not the one who was to have put the measures in place on the ground."

Saleh Kinyongo of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry revised previous information that the entire flight crew had been killed, saying to reporters "We now know there is a survivor in hospital. He's the mechanic (of the plane)... He's alive and well. He's talking and he's even been on TV." His name was given as Dede Ngama and he is receiving treatment at the Roi Baudouin hospital in Kinshasa. Previously, Russia's foreign ministry had reported that all three of the flight crew were Russian nationals and were killed in the crash. This has, however, been confirmed as accurate for the pilot and co-pilot.

It is known that shortly after takeoff, the plane experienced technical difficulties and initiated fuel dumping, then contacted air traffic control to request an emergency landing. Aircraft often dump fuel prior to emergency landings shortly after takeoff, as the aircraft are too heavy to land safely with full fuel loads. However, after about ten minutes, the plane suddenly plunged down into a market and houses in a residential area. The Russian Foreign ministry reported that upon takeoff the plane lost a propeller, and that a wing sheared off when the plane impacted a bank of trees.

An emergency meeting of Congo's cabinet was held yesterday to investigate how existing air safety regulations could be improved, including possibilities of better inspections and tougher penalties for non-conformers.

The crash site has proved difficult to secure from onlookers and petty criminals. Local police have already arrested several people attempting to steal scrap metal, engine parts and any other valuables from the fire-scorched wreckage.

The crash has provoked national outrage, with local newspapers using headlines such as "Another flying coffin kills again," and "Congo's killer skies,". The government had promised to improve poor safety standards.

The plane belonged to Africa One, but had been leased to Manilla Airlift. The aircraft had undergone a safety inspection prior to it's departure from nearby Ndjili international airport.

The International Air Transport Association has described Congo's aviation safety record as 'an embarrassment', while all Congolese airlines except Hewa Bora Airways are on the List of air carriers banned in the EU.


Sources

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