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Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 02:36 GMT
Four feared dead in jet crash
A jumbo jet has crashed near Stansted Airport in Essex, killing up to four crew members.
The Boeing 747 Korean Air cargo plane crashed minutes after taking off from the airport north-east of London on a flight to Italy. There are reports that it exploded in mid-air.
Wreckage from the aircraft - which is said to have been carrying three Korean crew and a maintenance engineer - was on fire over a large area in fields and a forest between the villages of Great Hallingbury and Little Hallingbury.
One body and a number of body parts had been found at the crash site, Assistant Chief Constable Charles Clark, of Essex Police, told a news conference at Stansted Airport.
The jet - which was carrying no passengers - came down a mile south of the airport two minutes after taking off.
Fire and ambulance vehicles raced to the scene, with local hospitals put on standby to receive any casualties and an RAF helicopter scrambled from Wattisham in Suffolk.
But there were no reports of any injuries on the ground.
One of the 747-200's two flight recorders has been recovered from the crash site by Air Accident Investigation Branch officials.
Eyewitness Andrew Smith said the plane crashed at around 1840 GMT and he saw a "huge fireball".
He said: "The whole of our house shook and the whole sky was lit up."
The M11 motorway was closed, while roads around the airport were blocked by emergency vehicles, and rail services were disrupted.
Power lines were brought down in the crash, cutting power to local houses, though there were no reports of damage to homes in the area.
Residents were told to stay indoors and keep windows closed in case of chemical leaks while experts checked what cargo the plane was carrying.
A police spokeswoman said the plane may have been carrying toxic material.
Flights in and out of Stansted were suspended, with passengers told to wait for further information.
Forty four aircraft were diverted to Luton, Cambridge and Birmingham airports.
Airport management said Stansted would not open until 1000 GMT on Thursday morning. Passengers are asked to check with their airlines for departure details.
Eyewitness Neill Foster, who was driving from the airport terminal to the M11 when the plane crashed, said: "There was a large flash followed by a large bang.
"There was lots of falling debris, all on fire falling on roads surrounding the area."
He said it was raining and cloudy, with strong winds, at the time of the crash.
The BBC's James Blatch, reporting from the scene, said: "The debris field goes on for hundreds of yards.
"There are bits of metal and twisted fragments in the trees. This Boeing 747 appears to have been completely and utterly destroyed."
Eyewitness Deborah Smith told BBC Radio 5 Live: "All of a sudden the lights in our house went out.
"The sky just went completely orange and there was a ball of flames."
The Civil Aviation Authority said the jet was bound for Malpensa, Milan and was then due to fly to Seoul.
'Did not survive'
A Stansted Airport spokeswoman said the plane crashed shortly after take-off at the edge of nearby Hatfield Forest.
A spokesman from Essex Ambulance Service said: "We believe that the people on board did not survive the crash."
Six vehicles were initially sent to the scene and many more followed when the accident was confirmed, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott will visit the scene of the crash on Thursday morning.
A spokesman from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions said Mr Prescott had spoken to Prime Minister Tony Blair within half an hour of the crash.
Mr Prescott will visit the crash scene and discuss the situation with emergency services and the air accident investigation branch.
The spokesman said Mr Prescott sent his condolences to the families of those who died.
Annette Brooke-Taylor told how she was at a service station near Stansted when they saw the plane explode.
She said: "There was a big explosion and huge flames in the sky. It was a sort of mushroom shape. An incredible sight. It lit up the sky.
"There was a tremendous noise. There were lots of flaming particles in the sky and then it went very quiet and then we realised something terrible had happened."
The crash disrupted the travel plans of hundreds of passengers.
Flights had been due to leave for a variety of European and UK destinations, including Geneva, Turin, Guernsey, Stockholm, Berlin, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Sandy Lauder, from Maldon, Essex, was waiting for news of his Go flight to Edinburgh.
"We're just waiting to see what will happen," he said. "But it's no good complaining too much in this situation. You just have to feel sorry for the relatives of the people on board the aircraft."
Links to other UK stories are at the foot of the page.
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