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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 19:58 GMT
Algeria air crash kills 102
Grieving relatives comfort one another at Algiers airport - the flight's destination
Shocked relatives waiting in Algiers comfort one another
A passenger plane has crashed on take-off in southern Algeria, killing all but one of the 103 people on board.

The sole survivor, a young man believed to be one of the six-person crew, was critically injured, local radio reports said.

Witnesses said one of the engines of the Air Algerie aircraft caught fire as it took off in the remote city of Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.

The plane - a Boeing 737 - veered off the runway and crashed several hundred metres (yards) further on, they said.

It is the first major accident in the history of Algeria's national airline, set up after independence in 1962.

The flight was heading for the capital, Algiers, some 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) away.

The Algerian Government has set up crisis units in the capital and Tamanrasset to deal with the emergency, and the transport and interior ministers have gone to the crash scene.

Seven French citizens were among the dead, airport officials were quoted as saying.

In Paris, the foreign ministry confirmed the report without giving details, according to the French news agency AFP.

Ancient site

As the investigations into the crash began, a spokesman for Air Algerie said terrorism was not suspected.

"There was a mechanical problem on take-off," spokesman Hamid Hamdi told the Associated Press.

But he insisted the plane had been well maintained.

Tamanrasset lies at the base of the Hoggar Mountains in the Sahara Desert.

The area, known for its ancient archaeological sites and prehistoric paintings and engravings, attracts some tourism, despite the Islamic insurgency that has convulsed Algeria since 1992.

It has long been a major centre of trade in the region and for the Tuareg nomad tribes, known for their blue robes.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"The airline was quick to eliminate terrorism"



SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Algeria
03 Mar 03 |  Country profiles


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