31 January 2000

Cote d'Ivoire: Scores die in Kenya Airways crash off Abidjan

Abidjan — Only 10 people are known to have survived a disaster involving a Kenya Airways plane that crashed into the sea shortly after take-off from Abidjan on Sunday, a fire brigade source told IRIN.

Flight KQ431 was on its way to the Nigerian commercial capital, Lagos, with 169 passengers and 10 crew members, Pierre Gonh, air safety investigator for the Agence nationale de l'aviation civile (ANAC) told IRIN on Monday. The A-310 airbus took off from the Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport at 21.09 and crashed a minute later, Gonh said.

As of mid-afternoon on Monday 10 survivors had been accounted for, according to Jean-Baptiste Agnimel, head of the Groupement des Sapeurs Pompiers Militaires (GSPM) involved in the rescue and recovery operation. Nine of the 10 survivors are men: one Malagasy, four Nigerians, one Gambian, one Frenchman and two whose nationality was still unknown. There was one woman, a Rwandan.

Survivors were being treated at the Polyclinique Internationale Sainte Anne- Marie (PISAM), one of the biggest private hospitals in Abidjan.

Of the 86 bodies recovered so far, 47 are male and 39 are female but their nationalities are still unknown, Agnimel told IRIN. Two boats were continuing the sea search.

Immediately after the crash, two helicopters, one from the French army's BIMA 43e - 43rd Marine Infantry Base - near the Abidjan airport and one from a private company, Ivoire helicopters, scoured the crash site for survivors.

The cause of the crash, reportedly the first air disaster involving Kenya Airways, remained unclear. Witnesses who live along the beach near the airport told AFP that flames were seen coming out of one of the plane's engines before it hit the water, but airport authorities did not confirm this.

"It's too early to tell the reason for the crash. The plane was all right on arrival and no defect was reported to engineers on the ground at Abidjan," Gonh told IRIN. He said that the plane broke up into "big pieces" on impact but was not able to give further details.

A Nigerian survivor told the BBC that immediately before the crash the plane did not feel balanced and the next thing he knew "we were in the water". He swam out of the wreckage, but said he had to wait two hours before being rescued. The French survivor swam about one or two km to reach the shore, according to news reports.

The plane, which left Nairobi earlier on Sunday, had been scheduled to land at Lagos. However, due to poor weather conditions, it was re-routed to Abidjan for refuelling and to pick up more passengers before continuing on to Nigeria.

"It will be a miracle if we find any more survivors," one of the GSPM officials at the port in the Vridi area of Abidjan told IRIN.

This item is delivered by the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit (e- mail: irin@ocha.unon.org; fax: +254 2 622129; Web: http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN), but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.

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