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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
EgyptAir plane crashes near Tunis
wreckage of EgyptAir jet
The jet ploughed into a hill in foggy weather
An EgyptAir plane has crash-landed near Tunis with 55 passengers and up to 10 crew on board.

Tunisian rescue workers, who have now reached the crash site, say at least 20 people were killed.

But many of those on board are said to have survived. One Egyptian passenger called his family in Cairo on a mobile phone to say that he was safe.

He said the airliner had burnt out and surviving passengers were awaiting help.

EgyptAir in Cairo told the BBC that the plane was a Boeing 737-500 - also known as a 735. It was identified as Flight 843 from Cairo to Tunis.

The plane came down on a hillside about six kilometres (four miles) from the Tunis-Carthage airport.

Bad weather

Egypt's ambassador to Tunis, Mahdy Fathallah, said: "About 15 dead have been accounted for so far".

Egyptair disasters
1999 - Boeing 767 plunges into Atlantic off Massachusetts, killing all 217 onboard
1985 - Egyptian troops storm hijacked EgyptAir jet in Malta - 60 passengers and crew killed
1976 - EgyptAir plane crashes near Bangkok - 72 passengers and crew killed

The plane came down in fog and heavy rain, he said.

Airport officials in Tunis are quoted as saying the plane's landing gear had failed to open during the approach to the airport.

The pilot then made a fresh circuit to attempt another landing and that is when the plane crashed.

Black smoke billowed from the scene.

Distress call

The control tower had lost contact with the plane a few seconds before the crash, just after a distress call from the pilot, reports said.

Ambulances were seen heading towards the crash site near Ennahli Hill, close to a residential suburb of the city.

Shortly after the EgyptAir crash reports came in of an airliner coming down in the sea off northeastern China.

A China Northern Airlines plane with 112 people on board crashed near the coastal city of Dalian, according to state media.

1999 crash

In October 1999 an EgyptAir Boeing 767 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Massachusetts, killing all 217 people on board. US safety officials blamed the crash on the plane's co-pilot - a claim rejected by Egypt.

Before 1999, EgyptAir had not experienced a major crash for 23 years.

The BBC's Richard Slee
"Most of the dead are believed to have been in the rear of the plane"
See also:

26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tunisia
07 May 02 | Business
EgyptAir - 'pioneer of air travel'
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