Cargo plane crashes in Kinshasa suburb

A Soviet-era Antonov 26 cargo plane crashed in Kinshasa on Thursday, smashing through a dozen houses and killing 25 people on board as well as a number of people on the ground, officials and the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said.

The aircraft carved a path of destruction through the heavily populated Masina district in the east of the DRC capital just after taking off. Witnesses said it exploded in a fireball on impact.

“There were 27 people on the plane and 25 died and two members of the crew, a mechanic and an attendant survived,” UN mission spokesperson Michel Bonnardeaux said, quoting local officials.

Humanitarian Affairs Minister Jean-Claude Muyambo said the plane belonged to the Africa One airline and had been heading to Tshikapa in the vast country’s Kasai-Occidentale province.

Poorly equipped firefighters fought desperately to put out the flames. “There are no survivors.
The aircraft is completely burned out. The number of people also killed in the houses it struck isn’t yet known,” a senior police officer at the scene said.

The Antonov’s crew had informed airport authorities that five crew and 14 passengers were on board, but an official with the RVA national aviation authority said it is common practice to declare an incorrect passenger manifest to avoid taxes.

The Antonov 26, a twin-propeller transport aircraft whose design dates back to the 1960s, is typical of the ageing fleet that has become an essential part of the transport infrastructure in the DRC.

Africa One is on a European Union list of airlines banned in Europe because of safety concerns. Only one of more than 50 companies in the Central African nation, the privately owned Hewa Bora Airways, is exempted from that blacklist.

Last month, an Antonov 12 cargo aircraft crashed and exploded while landing at Goma’s airport. In August, 13 people died in Kongolo in another Antonov disaster. After a previous accident in June, the Transport Ministry grounded two airlines within the DRC itself.

Though perilous because of poor maintenance, lack of infrastructure and the sheer age of much of the fleet, air transport is the most common way to get around the nation that stretches from Africa’s western Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes in the centre.

The DRC has only just started to emerge from the ravages of its 1998-2003 rebel war that drew in the armies of more than half-a-dozen other African nations, following decades of misrule.—Sapa-AFP

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