Russian-made cargo plane crashes; 41 dead

The wreckage of the Russian-built Antonov plane, which crashed in a small farming community on the banks of the White Nile River, close to Juba airport in South Sudan's capital yesterday. A crew member and a child survived the crash, which killed at
The wreckage of the Russian-built Antonov plane, which crashed in a small farming community on the banks of the White Nile River, close to Juba airport in South Sudan's capital yesterday. A crew member and a child survived the crash, which killed at least 41 on the plane and on the ground.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JUBA (South Sudan) • A Russian- built cargo plane with passengers on board crashed after taking off from the airport in South Sudan's capital, killing at least 41 people on the flight and on the ground, an official and a Reuters witness said.

A crew member and a child on board survived, presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Reuters.

Shortly after taking off from Juba airport yesterday, the plane came down on the banks of the White Nile River, leaving a tail fin and parts of the fuselage strewn in vegetation close to the water.

The plane may have had about 20 people on board, comprising crew and "probably" 10 to 15 passengers, Mr Ateny said, but added: "We need to confirm how many people were on board."

In addition, he said an unknown number of people were killed on the ground as the Russian-built Antonov plane crashed near where some fishermen were working.

"We don't know the number of people that were killed on the ground," he added.

A police officer, who did not give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters at the scene that at least 41 people died, but said the number could climb. The Reuters witness said he saw 41 bodies at the site.

Earlier, South Sudanese media had said the cargo plane carried five Russian crew and seven passengers. South Sudan Tribune on Twitter also reported two survivors, one of them a child.

Meanwhile, data released on Tuesday showed that the Russian plane that crashed last Saturday in Egypt slowed suddenly and then plunged to the ground at 483kmh.

The Metrojet Airbus Group SE A-321, carrying 224 people, fell from around 9,450m to 7,925m in the final 26 seconds, according to the last transmissions from its radio transponder reporting information to the ground and captured by flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.

The new data is consistent with reports from Egyptian and Russian officials, who said that the plane came apart as it was flying at cruising altitude from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg. It also indicates that the plane's direction of travel was wobbling from side to side, which would occur if it was coming apart.  

Several possible scenarios for the plane's breakup remain, including a bomb or a structural failure. At least partial answers should come soon, as officials in Egypt review the plane's black boxes and teams have a chance to inspect the wreckage.

The plane dropped gradually at first and then more rapidly as its forward speed slowed, according to the new data. By the last transmission, it was moving forward at only 87kmh, far below a normal flying speed.

Whatever happened aboard the Russian aircraft appeared to begin at 6.13am local time when what had been a steady climb switched suddenly to a descent, according to the data.

Mr John Goglia, a former airline mechanic who served on the US National Transportation Safety Board, said that investigators may be taking a look at a 2001 repair to the Russian jet prompted by an accidental scraping of its tail during landing.

Failures of those repairs are one of the few things known to cause the type of sudden mid-air breakup that occurred last Saturday, he said.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2015, with the headline 'Russian-made cargo plane crashes; 41 dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe