Recap: 210 killed in Congo's freak accident
More than 210 people were killed when a door fell off a Russian-built aircraft flying over the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 10, 2003, a source at Kinshasa airport said.Updated: May 22, 2003 14:42 IST
More than 210 people were killed when a door fell off a Russian-built aircraft flying over the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 10, 2003, a source at Kinshasa airport said.
In a freak accident, more than 210 people were killed when a door fell off a Russian-built aircraft flying over the Democratic Republic of Congo, a source at Kinshasa airport said.
"We have seen this type of aircraft take more than 300 people on board during troop flights," said the source, adding that the death toll from the accident would certainly exceed the initial estimate of 160.
The Ilyushin 76 plane - which began service in the Soviet era in 1971 - had been travelling from the capital Kinshasa to the southeastern city of Lubumbashi on Thursday night when its rear ramp door flew off.
Military sources and witnesses said on Friday that up to 160 people were killed after being sucked out at 2,200 metres (7,000 feet) above the ground, while 40 others survived, but the government has only confirmed seven deaths.
A policeman who survived the accident told AFP that more than 100 police officers and members of their families had been aboard the plane.
He and other survivors said there had also been a large number of clandestine passengers on the flight - a frequent practice in African countries with poor transport infrastructure.
The crew managed to turn the plane around and fly back to the capital, where the aircraft was swiftly transferred to a military hangar.
The plane was left with "a gaping hole in the cabin," according to an AFP correspondent who climbed aboard after it landed in Kinshasa.
Inside he saw "blood everywhere, reams of torn netting and part of a child's arm still hooked on the torn metal."
Sources said that between 23 and 50 passengers had survived the accident but by Saturday all survivors had been transferred from the Mama Yemo hospital in Kinshasa to military camp hospitals.
At the Lufungula military camp on Saturday, three survivors agreed to tell their story, on condition of anonymity.
"There were no seats, only a few folding chairs along the cabin walls. People were crammed onto benches and on the floor," one of them told AFP.
"When the door came off, the plane tipped to the right then to the left, and many people fell towards the hole."
He stayed alive by gripping onto the netting that secured trunks full of ammunition and uniforms inside the cabin.
"It was by clinging with my arms and legs to the netting that I managed not to be sucked out like the others," he said.
"I don't know how I made it out of there," said a young policewoman. "When the door came off we were knocked around from all sides."
"There was a truck inside the plane fastened down with strong straps. I held on to a strap and to one of the truck wheels," she told AFP.
Another policeman added: "The truck served as a barrier for most of the survivors, it prevented them from falling out of the gaping hole."
A government spokesman told AFP on Friday the air force had informed him that just seven people had died.
Since then, the government has retreated into a stubborn silence, while the Saturday edition of the state-run daily L'Avenir did not even report on the accident.
In Kinshasa, Defence Minister Irung Awan criticised speculation about the death toll from the accident and told AFP in a written statement that he was working to establish its causes and the number of people missing.
Reliable sources told AFP however that a military statement about the accident was being drafted at midday on Saturday.
Airport sources said on Saturday that President Joseph Kabila had travelled to the airport late the previous evening to inspect the damaged aircraft.
First Published: May 22, 2003 14:42 IST