From correspondents in Kinshasa
May 11, 2003

AS many as 129 soldiers and their families were hurled to their death when the rear ramp of a Russian-made cargo plane flew open high above the jungle of the Congo.

Officials and witnesses said passengers fell to their death.

The central African nation is now in the fifth year of a civil war that has killed an estimated 2.5 million people.

Yet even by the horrific standards of all that has befallen the country, observers said the accident was barely comprehensible.

A Congolese government spokesman, Kikaya Bin Karubi, initially told reporters that seven passengers were confirmed dead.

But traumatised survivors testified to watching dozens of their fellow passengers get sucked out of the plane as it sped along on Friday (Australian time).

Some passengers told reporters yesterday that there might have been 200 people

 packed into the aircraft.

The accident occurred as the ill-fated Ilyushin-76 -- a notorious Soviet-era plane which has been involved in numerous accidents in recent years -- made its way from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Lubumbashi, in the southern part of the country.

The plane had been chartered by the military to transport soldiers and their families to the diamond city, which is home to a large military base.

After the accident, the crew managed to turn the plane around and return to Kinshasa.

"Thirty-five minutes after takeoff, we heard a loud noise inside the plane, like hissing, and then the ramp fell off," a passenger, who gave his name as Katembo, told Agence France-Presse from Kinshasa General Hospital.

"The aircraft swung from side to side and that's when the people fell out. Only the people who had the reflex to reach for ropes on the walls were able to stay inside."

Kabamba Mbwebwe, a doctor who treated victims, said the survivors were traumatised.

"The door opened and the plane depressurised," he said. "Many were sucked out."

Africa has an a appalling air-safety record because of its many poorly maintained fleets.

In January 1996, at least 350 people died when a Russian-built Antonov-32 cargo plane crashed into a crowded market in the city of Kinshasa.

Later that year, in Nigeria, a Boeing 727 flying from Port Harcourt to Lagos crashed, killing all 142 passengers and nine crew members on board.

In January 2000, an Airbus A-310 crashed shortly after takeoff from Kinshasa, the commercial capital of the Ivory Coast and, until recently, the main airline hub for West Africa. That accident killed 169 of the 179 Airbus passengers and crew.

The Ilyushin-76, made in 1971, has a particularly bad record: 45 accidents, with 393 dead.

In late 1996, an Ilyushin-76 used by Kazakhstan Airlines collided with a Boeing 747 of Saudi Arabian Airlines near India's capital, New Delhi. It was the world's deadliest in-flight crash, with 349 people killed.

In February this year, an Ilyushin-76 crashed in Iran, killing 275 people, including more than 200 soldiers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Air travel in Africa often means cramming passengers, suitcases and makeshift luggage into planes which are equipped for far fewer people.

Battered by a five-year civil war that shows no signs of abating, Congo has a particularly poor network of roads. Air travel, even under such perilous conditions, is the only long-distance option.

Yesterday, nine people were being treated in the Kinshasa hospital. Congolese government officials promised an inquiry into the accident.

The Sunday Telegraph

Ukraine Denies Deaths in Congo Air Mishap
 
Sat May 10, 5:57 PM ET
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By EDDY ISANGO, Associated Press Writer

KINSHASA, Congo - The defense ministry of Ukraine, which owns the cargo plane whose doors opened at 33,000 feet, denied Saturday that anyone was hurt in the mishap and said no cargo was lost.

Photo
AP Photo


AP Video 129 Feared Dead As Door Opens Mid-Flight
(AP Video)

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AP Graphic


 

 

 

Confusion over the death toll persisted as Congolese authorities investigated how many people died after dozens of men, women and children were sucked out of the plane. The flight crew managed to fly the plane back to the capital.

Two officials at the international airport told The Associated Press that 129 people were feared dead. Later, a third official estimated the casualties were about half that, saying the exact figure may be difficult to determine because of an incomplete passenger list. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Seven people were confirmed dead and military helicopters searched the region for bodies, said government spokesman Kikaya Bin Karubi. He did not provide details but confirmed that those who died were "ejected from the plane."

The cargo doors of the plane, a Russian-built Ilyushin 76, opened about 45 minutes after takeoff Thursday night from Kinshasa.

"The door opened and the plane depressurized. Many were sucked out," said Kabamba Mbwebwe, a doctor who treated victims.

Nine survivors were treated for minor injuries and psychological trauma at Kinshasa General Hospital.

One passenger, police Lt. Ilunga Mambaza, estimated that 350 passengers were on the plane when it took off but only 100 returned, meaning about 250 people died.

"Lots of my colleagues were sucked out by the wind. I don't know how many, because I fainted," Mambaza said.

Survivors said passengers clutched military vehicles and ladders trying to remain inside the plane after the doors opened. People in Africa often travel on modified cargo planes that have few seats, leaving most passengers to cram in among their belongings in the rear of the aircraft.

Police Sgt. Kabmba Kashala, who also was on board, said the aircraft took off with the door improperly fastened. Three attempts to shut it correctly during the flight failed and then it sprang open, he said.

"I was just next to the door and I had the chance to grab onto a ladder just before the ... door let loose," he said.

He put the number of missing at about 100.

Disputing the witness accounts, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Kostiantyn Khyvrenko said that about 40 seconds after takeoff from Kinshasa, the aircraft captain noted that the cabin was depressurizing, requested a landing and successfully returned the aircraft to the airport. He cited officials of the state-owned company that operates the aircraft, Ukrainian Cargo Airways.

"Neither the people, nor the cargo, nor the plane itself were hurt or damaged," Khyvrenko told The

 Associated Press in Kiev, Ukraine.

The plane apparently had been chartered to transport Congolese soldiers and their families from Kinshasa to the southeastern city of Lubumbashi, a diamond center. Soldiers regularly provide security in Congo cities, often traveling as a group between assignments.

The weather was clear and there were no suggestions of sabotage.

   

The Ilyushin 76 is a medium- to long-range transport jet. The model was first flown in 1971. It is widely used as a civilian carrier, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The plane has a checkered safety record, including 47 accidents that resulted in 668 deaths, according to the Aviation Safety Network Web site, an air safety data base.

On Feb. 19, an Ilyushin 76 crashed in bad weather in Iran, killing 275 people, including more that 200 elite Iranian soldiers. A month earlier, another jet crashed while landing in thick fog in East Timor (news - web sites), killing all six people on board.

As many as 1,000 people were killed in Kinshasa on Jan. 6, 1996, when a Russian-built Antonov crashed into a crowded market at the end of a runway near a Kinshasa airport.

Congo is in the fifth year of a civil war that has led to more than 2.5 million deaths, aid groups estimate, mostly from strife-related hunger or illness. Despite a series of peace deals, fighting persists in the northeast.

 The Likely Cause

""The doors opened including the ramp as the pressure system broke down," a military official told Reuters news agency.

"Everybody was sucked out."

Methinks no-one checked that the rear electrically activated door-locks were made before they got airborne - or that an electrical/wiring failure unmade them (or see further more likely possibility below in italics). The C130/C133/C141/C117 rear ramp upper doors are plug type (open inwards) and cannot open while pressurized. Petal doors such as on the IL76 aren't plug-type but wouldn't (like cargo-doors) be on a ground-bus that's safely deactivated airborne. Why not? Well because it's used for aerial drops and para-trooping just like C130's. So an active inflight bus plus non-plug petal-type doors? Lethal combo. A manufactured mishap.

 
I'm only guessing but it's probable that to open the doors the primary latchings would have been powered away but the doors would still be held closed against indicator-light driving micro-switches by hydraulic pressure (and then reversed hyd pressure through the door-jacks would be required to open them at a damped rate/stop them fluttering in the breeze).
 
But if the electrical latching had failed (at some earlier date) due to an intermittent wiring fault, they'd probably not be aware of that. Why not? Well as long as the hyd system held the doors positively closed against the micro-switches, those micro-switches would keep the loadmaster's panel lights and the cockpit caution lights from illuminating. However once they then had the hyd system failure that these guys had, the latent defect in the primary locks meant that they wouldn't have been there as the (now effectively) "secondary" safety-latching system...... and the doors just blow open, courtesy of the differential, as the hyd pressure falls away.
 
Latent undetected faults are a real bitch....particularly when they only show up at the point where their system's performance is critical.