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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 May, 2003, 20:22 GMT 21:22 UK
Survivors tell of Congo plane horror
Military transport plane in Russia is similar to the one in the Congo disaster
The door was not properly fastened, according to one survivor

Mystery still surrounds the number of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo who died after falling out of a cargo plane in mid-flight.

The government - which confirmed seven deaths, then admitted the figure might be nearer to 170 before settling on 60 - has launched an investigation.

Airport officials had put the death toll at around 129, but survivors say the figure could be much higher because the plane was overloaded.

Passengers were sucked out of the plane when the rear doors flew open after taking off from the capital Kinshasa on Thursday night.

Survivors told how they clung on bags, ropes and nettings for almost two hours to stop themselves also being dragged through the rear hole.

Mambaza, a policeman, estimated there were 350 passengers on board - including 100 women and children. He thought no more than 100 had returned.

"When the back door opened, I fell down and lots of boxes covered me," he told Associated Press news agency from a military hospital in the Congolese capital Kinshasa.

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

His wife, Bebe Kahoma, said: "Us women, we had a little bit of luck because we had been placed close to the cabin, therefore far from the door, but we sustained some damages."

She said an unknown number of women and children fell from the plane and the shock caused two pregnant women to miscarry their unborn children.

Investigation

Other unnamed survivors, recovering at the Lufungula military camp, described the scene on board to French news agency, AFP.

"There were no seats, only a few folding chairs along the cabin walls. People were crammed onto benches and on the floor," said one.

"When the door came off, the plane tipped to the right then to the left, and many people fell towards the hole."

He said he stayed alive by gripping onto the netting that had secured trunks of ammunition and uniforms.

"It was by clinging with my arms and legs to the netting that I managed not to be sucked out like the others," he said.

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.

Two police officers said they survived thanks to a truck secured down in the plane: "The truck served as a barrier for most of the survivors, it prevented them from falling out of the gaping hole."

Sergeant Kabmba Kashala said the plane had taken off with the door improperly fastened.

It flung open after three failed attempts to fully shut it mid-flight, 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.

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

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

The Information Minister, Kikaya Bin Karubi, told Reuters an investigation was being carried out by the airforce and army to identify whether the accident was the result of human error or a mechanical problem.





WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Dummet on Focus on Africa
"One hour into the flight the rear door burst open"



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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