Aid plane crashes in Congo, no sign of survivors

By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA (Reuters) – A humanitarian plane carrying 17 passengers and crew that went missing in east Democratic Republic of Congo has crashed into a mountain and there is no sign of survivors, the contracting air company said on Tuesday.

Rescuers spotted the wreckage early on Tuesday of the 19-seat Beechcraft aircraft, contracted by Air Serv International, around 15 km northwest of the town of Bukavu, on Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda.

The plane had been on its way to Bukavu from the city of Kisangani on Monday when it lost contact with ground control as it made its landing approach in bad weather at around 1200 GMT.

“The aircraft has been found on a steep ridge eight miles northwest of Bukavu,” Air Serv International said in a statement posted on its website. “The aircraft was piloted by two crew members and carried 15 passengers. Aerial survey by helicopter indicate that there are no known survivors.”

Humanitarian sources said they understood some foreign nationals, perhaps as many as five, were aboard the plane along with Congolese citizens.

A U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said the rescue helicopter that found the wreckage had been unable to land. A second, smaller helicopter has been sent to the crash site.

“The last known radio contact was made 10 minutes inbound to Bukavu in heavy rain,” Air Serv International said earlier.

Air Serv is one of several entities and private contractors which service the large community of aid workers operating in Congo, a vast, mineral-rich former Belgian colony which is still suffering a humanitarian crisis triggered by a 1998-2003 war.

Most humanitarian organisations operating in the country restrict travel by their personnel on commercial flights because of local airlines’ abysmal safety record and frequent crashes.

Despite the official end of the war five years ago, fighting between rebel and militia groups and the government army has persisted in the lawless eastern borderlands.

Experts say the 1998-2003 war and the resulting humanitarian catastrophe have killed 5.4 million people in Congo, mostly from hunger and disease linked to the conflict.

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

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