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
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
Air travel in Africa often means cramming passengers,
suitcases and makeshift luggage into planes which are equipped for far
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
Yesterday, nine people were being treated in the
Kinshasa hospital. Congolese government officials promised an inquiry
into the accident.
The Sunday Telegraph
By EDDY ISANGO, Associated
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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.