Congo Plane Crashes at End of Runway and Bursts Into Flames

Charles Ntirycha, AP, April 15, 2008

A Congolese jetliner with about 85 people on board failed to take off Tuesday from an airport in this eastern town, slamming into a busy market neighborhood at the end of the runway and bursting into flames, officials said.

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The tragedy underscored the dangers of plane travel in Congo, which has experienced more fatal crashes than any other African country since 1945, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

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The plane was operated by the private Congolese company, Hewa Bora, and was headed to the central city of Kisangani, then the capital, Kinshasa.

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Employees at World Vision said the plane “failed to leave the ground,” plowing instead “through wooden houses and shops in the highly populated Birere market.”

The plane appeared to have been “totally flattened” by the impact, said Rachel Wolff, a U.S.-based spokeswoman for the organization who has been in contact with her colleagues in Congo.

A former pilot who survived the crash, Dunia Sindani, gave a similar account in an interview broadcast over a local U.N. radio station. The plane suffered a problem in one of its wheels—possibly a flat tire—and did not gain the strength to lift off, Sindani said.

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Just last Friday, the European Union added Hewa Bora Airways to its blacklist of airlines banned from flying in the EU, without specifying a reason.

On Tuesday, European Union spokesman Michele Cercone said she had no information on Hewa Bora specifically but she said that all airlines based in Congo are banned from EU air space.

“That is because there is a general lack of effective control by the civil aviation authorities there to monitor and maintain minimum technical standards” for airplanes, Cercone said.

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