Tuesday, February 1, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

169 feared dead in plane crash

ABIDJAN, Jan 31 (Reuters) — A Kenyan airliner crashed off the Ivory Coast last night, scattering corpses and wreckage in the sea, but rescuers and Kenya Airways said early today that at least 10 persons survived.

The Airbus 310, flight KQ431, was carrying 179 passengers and crew from Ivory Coast’s main city Abidjan to Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos. It crashed a few minutes after taking off from Abidjan’s seaside international airport.

The crash was Kenya Airways first and the first major airliner crash of the year.

“It broke up on impact. It broke into 100 pieces,” medical worker Alain Thonar, who is attached to a private emergency service that works with the airport, said early today.

“It’s sad all those bodies floating everywhere,” Mr Gerard Frere, owner of a fishing boat that took part in the rescue, said.

Kenya Airways said 169 passengers and 10 crew were on board. It too spoke of at least 10 survivors. “We are also getting reports of bodies washing up on the shore,” Technical Director Steve Clark told a Nairobi news conference.

Mr Thonar travelled by helicopter to the crash site, about 3,000 metres from the shore. “We were seeing bodies floating,” he said. The sea was calm but there was no moon.

Some witnesses reported hearing bangs as the plane went down. “There were three loud explosions,” Mr Thonar said, quoting witnesses from the beach. Other witnesses spoke of seeing lights at the surface before the plane sank.

“There is wreckage and corpses scattered over a wide area,” one source in contact with the rescue boats said.

Two rescue helicopters with searchlights criss-crossed the scene. Rescuers quoted one survivor, a Nigerian, as saying that the plane had gone down three minutes after take-off. Mr Thonar said the plane sent the control tower a radio message, saying that it was going down one minute after take-off.

Rescuers had pulled 74 bodies out of the sea.

Ten survivors had been taken to the Pisam private clinic in Abidjan, medical and airline sources said. An ambulance worker said one of the survivors swam ashore.

‘‘We have brought 74 bodies ashore, and those are the ones we have seen with our eyes,’’ Captain Jean-Baptiste Agnimol of the military rescue service said.

Rescue sources said kerosene on the corpses and the lack of a moon compounded the problems of trying to pull in bodies. “We’re having trouble pulling them in, it’s awful.” one rescuer said from the scene.

The nationality of the dead and all but one of the survivors was not immediately clear. An Abidjan airport official said most of the passengers were Nigerians.

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