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Plane Crash in Congo Kills at Least 27



GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — A plane carrying 17 passengers crashed on Sunday in the densely populated city of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing at least 27 people, including some on the ground, officials said.

A lawmaker, Jean Paul Lumbulumbu, vice president of North Kivu’s Parliament, said more than two dozen bodies had been pulled from the rubble.

Two people were rescued before the plane exploded, including one member of the crew, according to the National Border Health Program, which confirmed 25 dead in a statement later Sunday.

The 19-seat plane, operated by the private carrier Busy Bee, was headed for the city of Beni, about 155 miles to the north, when it crashed shortly after takeoff into residential homes near Goma’s airport in North Kivu Province, according to the office of Gov. Nzanzu Kasivita Carly of North Kivu.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. Footage online showed smoke rising from the plane wreckage on the ground and the rear part of the fuselage resting on a concrete wall.

Heritier Said Mamadou, a Busy Bee airline staff member, told reporters, “There were 17 passengers onboard and two crew members.”

He said the plane had taken off around 9:10 a.m. The aircraft crashed in the Mapendo District shortly after “missing” its takeoff, according to the provincial governor.

Black smoke rose from the plane in the morning, whose wreckage could be seen amid destroyed homes as dozens of men tried to help with the rescue efforts. The smoke cleared as rescue workers carried bodies in stretchers and hundreds of people gathered at the scene.

Joseph Makundi, the coordinator of rescue services in Goma, told Reuters that 27 bodies had been recovered from the rubble, including those of several people hit by falling debris.

“I was at a restaurant with my family when I saw the plane spinning three times in the air and emitting a lot of smoke,” said Djemo Medar, a witness in Goma’s Mapendo neighborhood. “After that, we saw the plane crash into this house,” he said pointing to a nearby building.

“We know the pilot. His name is Didier,” he added. “He was shouting, ‘Help me, Help me.’ But we had no way to get to him because the fire was so powerful,” Mr. Medar said.

Placide Kambale, a local pilot, told The Associated Press that he took a taxi to the site to help out. When he got there, the plane was on fire.

“I called other young people from the neighborhood,” he said. “They helped me to try to remove those who still moved. We have managed to recover two that was quickly sent to the hospital,” he added, but then the fire expanded.

At the crash site, residents threw water from buckets and cooking pots onto the smoldering wreckage.

The police arrested one man suspected of stealing cash from the rubble and fired warning shots to disperse people who had started looting, Mr. Medar said.

The United Nations mission in Congo said it had sent an emergency team with two fire engines to support the Congolese authorities in the rescue operation.

Congo has one of the world’s worst aviation records, with relatively frequent plane crashes caused by lax safety standards and poor maintenance. All Congolese commercial carriers, including Busy Bee, are banned from operating in the European Union.

In October, a cargo plane departing from the same airport crashed an hour after takeoff, killing all eight passengers. The plane, an Antonov An-72 transport aircraft, crashed in a forest and broke apart upon landing.

That aircraft, carrying President Félix Tshisekedi’s driver, a logistics manager and soldiers, was headed from Goma to the capital, Kinshasa, and went off radar an hour after departing, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement at the time. An armored vehicle used by the president had also been on board.

After news of that crash broke, local news media showed hundreds of supporters of Mr. Tshisekedi hitting the streets of Kinshasa, apparently fearing that the plane had been downed in a failed coup attempt. Mr. Tshisekedi took office in January from President Joseph Kabila, who governed for 17 years.

The Russian Embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo said on its Facebook page that preliminary information indicated that Russians were among the crew members on the Antonov jet.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission sent two planes and a helicopter to join the search for plane debris. But there was no hope for the passengers.

“There are no survivors; the bodies were all burnt to ashes,” a presidential adviser, Vidiye Tshimanga, told reporters at the time.

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