Cameroon finds Kenya plane, no word of survivors

Published: Monday, May 7, 2007, 2:04 [IST]
 

YAOUNDE, May 6 (Reuters) A Kenya Airways plane that went missing with 114 people board crashed in a swamp a short distance from Cameroon's Douala airport, officials said today, but there was no word of any survivors.

The Boeing 737-800, which was carrying passengers from more than 20 countries, vanished yesterday shortly after taking off from Douala for Nairobi in torrential rain.

The wreckage was found 20 km (12 miles) southeast of the airport along the plane's flight path, Kenya Airways said.

''All I can say for now is that the wreckage of the plane has been located in the small village of Mbanga Pongo, in the Douala III subdivision. We are putting in place rescue measures,'' Cameroon's Minister of State for Territorial Administration Hamidou Yaya Marafa told a news conference.

''For now we cannot say whether there were any survivors or not. Access to the area is very difficult,'' he said. ''We are beginning a new painful phase. Our task will be more difficult now, the task of recovering the corpses.'' An aviation official said a ground team was at the site and a search party was trying to reach the area by helicopter.

It was more than 100 km (60 miles) from the zone where radar-equipped helicopters, ground search parties and villagers on motorbikes had spent much of the weekend combing thick tropical forest.

Kenya Airways Group Managing Director Titus Naikuni said in Nairobi that local fishermen had led rescuers to the crash site.

''We are told the aircraft was covered by a canopy of trees, and that was the delay in sighting the crash site,'' he said.

Naikuni gave no details as to why the plane might have crashed.

Earlier, Cameroon's state radio reported the plane had been found more than 100 km further south, but quickly withdrew the report.

WEEPING RELATIVES Relatives of passengers turned up at airports and Kenya Airways offices in both countries seeking information, some weeping, others clutching radios or phones to their ears. In the Kenyan capital many joined prayer services for the missing.

Kenya, France and the United States assisted with the search and officials from plane manufacturer Boeing and the US National Transportation Safety Board were due in Cameroon to help investigations, the airline said.

The six-month-old aircraft was carrying 105 passengers and nine crew, most of them African with others from China, India, Europe and elsewhere. The flight had originated in Ivory Coast.

Anthony Mitchell, a journalist working for the Associated Press in Nairobi, was among five Britons on board, according to Kenya Airways' passenger manifest.

South African mobile phone operator MTN said its Cameroon subsidiary's chief executive, company secretary, chief financial officer and her husband, and a network engineer were on board.

Oil major Chevron said two of its employees were too.

Kenya Airways has three 737-800s and Naikuni said they had not decided whether to ground the others.

Reuters ABM VP0150


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