Tue, May 08, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Investigators begin probe into Kenyan plane crash

AGENCIES , MBANGA PONGO, CAMEROON

Investigators began a probe yesterday into the crash of a brand new Kenya Airways plane off Cameroon's commercial capital which killed all the 114 people on board.

An updated passenger list released by the airline said the occupants included 85 Africans, 21 Asians, seven Europeans and one US citizen.

Luc Ndjodo, the prosecutor of the west African country's economic hub Douala, said that rescuers had recovered the first bodies more than 48 hours after the Boeing 737-800 vanished from radar screens in a violent storm shortly after it took off for Nairobi.

He said investigators were at the marshy site, trying to ascertain the reasons for the crash.

The wreckage was found some 36 hours later 20km southwest of Douala.

dense

The Boeing 737-800 fell into densely forested swampland early on Saturday minutes after leaving Douala for Nairobi in torrential rain.

"It's devastating. I found one or two whole bodies at the start, but since then everything is in pieces," said Captain Francis Ekosso of Cameroon's fire department, who was in charge of the rescue.

"People were afraid of the bodies at the start, so I had to pick them up with my own hands, and they came apart in my fingers," he said.

In a round crater gouged out of the bush, victims' remains lay amid clothes, personal belongings and plane debris in a hole filled with muddy water smelling of jet fuel and decomposition.

Apart from the plane's nose jammed down into the mud, there was little left of the rest of the aircraft bar fragments not much bigger than a car door.

Rescue workers had to hack through dense mangrove and forest to reach the wreckage as helicopters and planes buzzed overhead.

They then returned the several kilometers to the nearest road carrying stretchers bearing victims' remains wrapped in white plastic.

Kamal Shah, a 32-year-old Kenyan who flew out from Nairobi after the crash, searched through the wreckage in silence for any signs of his wife, Meera Shah, 30. She had been on her way home from a short business trip, he said.

Theories abounded on the cause of the crash, especially given the fact that the plane was hardly six months old.

A Kenyan aviation official yesterday said that the plane could have been struck by lightning.

The rescue work was being conducted under tight security with police guarding the site and helicopters hovering overhead.

Kenya Airways chief Titus Naikuni meanwhile said yesterday that the plane "was covered by trees" and it was "difficult to see the wreckage from the air."

A Kenya Airways official earlier said an airline employee who had reached the scene saw that the nose of the plane half-buried and the remains of the tail section scattered over about a kilometer.

Part of the wreckage was in a swamp and part was floating on top of it, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said, relaying reports from Kenyan officials in Cameroon.

He said Kenyan Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mamakwele was knee-deep in mud when he visited the site of the crash late on Sunday.

help

Dozens of villagers armed with machetes helped cut an emergency path to the wreckage, as Cameroonian troops cordoned off the area.

"The army search team that went out last night to the scene reported that there was no chance that anybody survived the crash," a Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority official said in Nairobi. "Things are very bad over there."

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