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Page last updated at 01:58 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 02:58 UK

Airliner hits houses in DR Congo

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Eyewitness describes aftermath of the plane crash

At least 21 people have died after a plane hit a busy residential area while attempting to take off in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is unclear whether the victims were travelling on the plane or on the ground at the time of the crash.

The DC-9 skidded off the runway in the eastern city of Goma during heavy rain, smashed through a wall and broke up.

The plane, which had 79 passengers and six crew on board, was chartered by the private airline Hewa Bora.

Last week, the European Union added the carrier to its blacklist of airlines banned from flying in the EU.

The plane had been en route to Kisangani in central DR Congo, a country with one of the world's poorest air safety records.

A third of the runway at Goma's airport was affected by a lava flow from a volcanic eruption in 2002, making it a particularly difficult spot for take-off, according to local aviation industry sources.

Buckets of water

UN staff who visited two local hospitals in Goma found 55 injured passengers, six of them in a serious condition.

The nose of the crashed plane in Goma
DR Congo has one of the worst air safety records in the world

Reports say the plane never really left the ground and most of those on board were able to escape the craft before a fire took hold.

"We have managed to save most of the passengers who have been evacuated to hospitals," Dirk Cramers, a director of the airline, told Reuters.

One of the survivors said he heard an explosion as the plane was accelerating for take-off, and he believed one of the plane's tyres had exploded, reports the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman.

A plume of black smoke rose above the crash-site in Goma's densely populated Birere district, which is home to small shops and restaurants.

People used buckets of water to put out the fire and UN personnel helped keep back the crowds.

Doctors' strike

British MP Eric Joyce, who heads the Commons all-party group on the Great Lakes region of Africa, witnessed the scenes at a hospital about a mile from the crash site.

BBC map

"The injuries seem to be primarily people on the aircraft but it's very hard to tell," he told the BBC.

"Certainly a lot of people around here have been affected, there are lots of relatives and casualties coming in.

"The problem appears to be that there aren't enough vehicles to get everyone out."

Mr Joyce added doctors in the city had been holding a strike on Tuesday.

"I think doctors will be making their way to the hospitals at the moment but they may not have all been in the hospitals when this crash took place," he said.




SEE ALSO
In pictures: Goma air crash
15 Apr 08 |  In Pictures

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