Home | News    Tuesday 18 November 2003

Thirteen killed in Sudanese plane crash

By Mohamed Ali Saeed

KHARTOUM, Nov 18 (AFP) — A Sudanese cargo plane caught fire and exploded while preparing to land at a southern airport, killing all 13 people aboard, the airline’s chief said Tuesday.

Mohamed Abdel Qadir, general manager of Saria Airlines, said "the plane caught fire and exploded" in an apparent accident as it approached Wau airport late Monday afternoon on a flight from the capital Khartoum.

Civil aviation investigators had arrived Tuesday at the scene where the main body of the Antonov 12 was found about four kilometers (about two-and-a-half miles) from the airport, Abdel Qadir told AFP.

Among the dead were the four Armenians, a Russian and an Uzbek who flew the Russian-made plane, he said earlier on state-run Omdurman Radio. In Moscow, the foreign ministry identified the crew as four Armenians and two Uzbeks.

The head of the private Khartoum-based airline added that all the others on board also died: three security officials, a Bank of Sudan official, a Saria engineer, a policeman and a military policeman.

Abdel Qadir said the plane was carrying commercial foods and an unspecified sum of money sent from the central Bank of Sudan to a local branch.

He later told AFP by telephone that "the impression we had from the outset and until now was that it was an accident," doubting it was caused by some kind of attack.

The independent Al Sahafa daily quoted witnesses as saying the plane was on fire in the air before it exploded and fell to the ground.

They added that debris was scattered over a wide area at the airport and that some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, but Abdel Qadir could not confirm any debris there.

Wau, in Bahr al-Ghazal state, is one of the main government-held cities in southern Sudan, but there have been no reports of fighting for at least a year with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

SPLA spokesman George Garang told AFP by telephone in Nairobi that rebel forces had nothing to do with the incident and that "the crash is purely an accident.

"We are still observing a strict ceasefire and therefore our forces, which are some 36 kilometres (23 miles) south of Wau, were not involved in the accident," Garang said.

The government and SPLA have made dramatic progress toward ending their 20-year civil war during peace negotiations in Kenya, and Washington expects a final agreement to be signed by the end of the year.

In recent years, one civil airline and several military planes have crashed in Sudan.

A Sudanese airliner crashed July 8 near the Red Sea coast, leaving a baby boy as the sole survivor among the 116 passengers and crew aboard the plane bound for Khartoum. The crash was blamed on technical faults.

A sandstorm was blamed for an accident in April 2002 that killed 14 senior officers, including a deputy defense minister who directed the war against rebels in southern Sudan.

In Upper Nile state in February 1998, a military plane crash killed Sudan’s first vice president, General al-Zubair Mohammed Saleh, and 25 other people.

In June 1999, 50 people, including six officers, died when a military plane crashed due to an unspecified technical problem in the eastern state of Kassala, near Ethiopia, officials said.