More than 100 feared dead in Congo after plane door opens in flight

Friday, May 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ The rear door of a Russian-built cargo plane burst open as the aircraft carried police officials and their relatives across Congo, and 129 passengers were sucked out, airport officials said Friday.

Defense Minister Irung Awan confirmed there was ``a technical problem'' with the plane's rear door but provided no details and did not confirm any deaths among the 200 people on board.

After the accident occurred some 45 minutes into the flight, the pilots managed to turn back and land the plane in Kinshasa, Awan said.

The plane, with its rear door missing, could be seen on the airport tarmac.

Two officials at the international airport in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, independently told The Associated Press that 129 people were feared dead. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Nine survivors were being treated for minor injuries and psychological trauma at Kinshasa General Hospital, said Kabamba Mbwebwe, chief doctor at the hospital's emergency ward.

``They were traumatized and spoke of their baggage flying everywhere,'' Mbwebwe told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

People in Africa often travel on modified cargo planes that have few seats, leaving most passengers to cram in among their belongings in the rear of the aircraft.

The plane, a privately owned Ilyushin 76, had apparently been chartered to transport Congolese police and their families from Kinshasa to the southeastern city of Lubumbashi, a diamond city.

It was not immediately known why the door came off or the altitude of the plane at the time.

The Ilyushin76 is a medium- to long-range transport. The model was first flown in 1971. It is widely used around the world, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as a civilian freighter.

The plane has had a checkered safety record, including at least 45 accidents that resulted in some 393 deaths, according to the Aviation Safety Network Web site, an air safety data base.

On Feb. 19, an Ilyushin 76 crashed in bad weather in Iran, killing 275, including more that 200 elite Iranian soldiers. A month earlier, another of the jets crashed while landing in thick fog in East Timor, killing all six people on board.

Congo, in central Africa, is in the fifth year of a civil war. Despite a series of peace deals, fighting persists in the northeast.