At least four people were killed and seven missing after a plane crashed on Wednesday into the Atlantic Ocean off the Equatorial Guinea island of Annobon, the Malabo government announced.
There was no confirmation of earlier reports from airport sources that said that leaders of the Central African country’s ruling party, including government ministers due to begin campaigning on Friday ahead of May 4 elections, were on board the plane when it crashed.
The Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea had recently decided to dispatch top politicians originally from Annobon to the island in the Gulf of Guinea, including ministers, former government personalities, parliamentarians and senior civil servants.
Government spokesperson Santiago Nsobeya Efuman told public radio that a national air-force plane had crashed just after lunchtime.
”A tragic air accident happened today at 2.23pm [local time]. It concerns an Antonov-32 of the air force of Equatorial Guinea, which left Bata for the insular province of Annobon with five crew members and six passengers,” Nsobeya Efuman said.
The official was unable to confirm or deny the presence on board of senior members from President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s party.
”Efforts to find survivors have for the moment led to the recovery of four lifeless bodies,” he said, adding that rescue work was still under way.
Early indications from the Ministry of Information were that the accident was ”triggered by bad weather conditions” as the plane made its landing approach.
Equatorial Guinean airlines figure high on a European Union blacklist alongside companies from Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, North Korea and Liberia.
A 2006 ruling prohibits entry to European airspace for a raft of carriers, stemming from inspections carried out in 2005 following the deaths of 81 people on board a private Antonov-24 that was filled beyond its capacity.
Annobon is a remote Atlantic island about 700km south-west of the tropical nation’s capital, Malabo, and 350km off the coast of Gabon.
It is home to about 3 000 people, mainly employed in fishing.
Flights to the mainland only started last year.
The plane had flown from Equatorial Guinea’s economic capital, Bata, which is on the continental African. Malabo is itself on an island, Bioko. Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony. — Sapa-AFP