A Soviet-era cargo plane crashed in a residential area of Kinshasa yesterday, killing 25 people on board as it smashed through a dozen houses and exploded in a fireball.
Fatalities were also reported on the ground, but no precise death toll. Medical officials said 21 people had been hospitalized.
The Antonov 26 aircraft crashed in the densely populated Masina district of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) capital just after take-off from the nearby airport, a government minister said.
"There were 27 people on the plane and 25 died and two members of the crew, a mechanic and an air hostess survived," said Michel Bonnardeaux, a spokesman for the UN mission in the DRC, MONUC, quoting local officials.
Witnesses said the twin-engined plane exploded in flames on impact. The RVA national aviation authority sent firefighters to help poorly equipped city firemen tackle the blaze.
"There were several dead people in the houses," Information Minister Toussaint Tshilombo Send said.
"It's really premature at this stage to give any exact toll," the minister stressed.
The disaster was the fourth deadly plane accident in the DRC since June.
In 1996, a larger Antonov 32 hit a Kinshasa market and the final death toll was more than 300.
Humanitarian Affairs Minister Jean-Claude Muyambo said that the cargo plane belonged to the Africa One airline and had been headed to Tshikapa in the vast country's central Kasai-Occidental province.
"The aircraft is completely burned out," a senior police officer said at the scene. "The number of people also killed in the houses it struck isn't yet known."
The Antonov's crew had informed airport authorities that five crew and 14 passengers were on board, but an RVA official said it was common practice to declare an incorrect passenger manifest to avoid taxes.
The crew were Russians, according to a Russian embassy official in Kinshasa, Alexander Turtsinovitch, contacted by telephone by the Itar-tass news agency in Moscow, but he did not know how many there were.
The Antonov 26, a twin-propeller transport aircraft whose design dates back to the 1960s, was made in Ukraine and is typical of the aging fleet that has become an essential part of the transport infrastructure in the DRC.
Africa One is on an EU list of airlines banned in Europe because of safety concerns. Only one of more than 50 companies in the central African nation, the privately owned Hewa Bora Airways, is exempted from that blacklist.
Last month, an Antonov 12 cargo aircraft crashed and exploded while landing at Goma's airport. In August, 13 people died in Kongolo in another Antonov disaster. After a previous accident in June, the transport ministry grounded two airlines within the DRC itself.
Though perilous, air transport is the most used way to get around the nation.
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