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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 May, 2003, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
Scores sucked out of plane

More than 120 people are feared dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo after falling out of a cargo plane in mid-flight.

Military officials are quoted as saying that the rear ramp of the plane became detached not long after it had taken off from the capital, Kinshasa, on an internal flight.

One survivor is quoted by Reuters news agency as saying the plane was packed with up to 200 military personnel and their families.

"I was asleep and then I heard people screaming," said Soldier Prudent Mukalayi.

"When I woke up the pilot told everyone to get to the front of the plane and there were about 40 of us, but people kept dying... there were only about 20 survivors."

Charter

Government officials have given few details and downplayed the number of casualties.

Information Minister Kikaya Bin Karubi says that he has been told that only seven people were sucked out of the plane. The country's defence minister said he was unaware of any deaths.

Recent African air accidents
6 March 2003: An Algerian Boeing 737 crashes after taking off from the remote Tamanrasset airport, leaving up to 102 people dead.
4 July 2002: A Sudan Airways plane crashes into a residential district of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, killing 23 people.
7 May 2002: An EgyptAir Boeing 735 crash-lands near Tunis with 55 passengers and up to 10 crew on board, killing 15.
4 May 2002: A BAC1-11-500 plane crashes in the Nigerian city of Kano, killing 148 people - half of them on the ground.

Airport officials told the BBC's Mark Dummett in Kinshasa that there were more than 120 deaths - but it might be difficult to get an exact figure, because of an incomplete flight manifest.

The accident took place on Thursday night about 45 minutes after the plane took off.

The Ukrainian plane had been chartered by the military and was flying from Kinshasa to Congo's second city, Lubumbashi.

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

"Everybody was sucked out."

The Russian crew was able to turn the Ilyushin 76 around and land at Kinshasa airport following the incident.

There were both civilians and security officials on board, reports say.

'Baggage flying everywhere'

Nine men and women are being treated for minor injuries and psychological trauma, a doctor at Kinshasa General Hospital has been quoted by Associated Press news agency as saying.

"They were traumatized and spoke of their baggage flying everywhere," Dr Kabamba Mbwebwe said.

A senior air force officer said an inquiry was under way.

An Ilyushin 76 plane which crashed in Irkutsk, Russia, in 1999
The plane has a chequered history

People in Africa often travel on modified cargo planes that have few seats, leaving most passengers to sit among their belongings in the rear of the aircraft.

Our Kinshasa correspondent says there are often plane accidents in the vast country.

He says the poor state of the roads and the terrible state of the economy means any journey over distance requires a hair-raising ride in a poorly-maintained aircraft.

Many are old Soviet military planes, with passengers and cargo crammed in the back.

Concerns over the safety of now ageing Ilyushin 76 planes have mounted since 276 people died when one crashed in Iran's south-eastern mountains in February - the second crash in a month.





WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Dummett on Focus on Africa
"The victims were sucked out into the night sky"



SEE ALSO:
Dangers of flying in Africa
09 May 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
26 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Air disaster timeline
09 May 03  |  In Depth


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