Constantine — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared three days of mourning following the Tuesday (February 11th) crash of a military cargo plane that left at least 76 people dead.
The C-130 Hercules went down near Constantine, 500 kilometres east of the capital. It was one of the worst air disasters in Algerian history.
The final death toll has not yet been established, but one person survived the accident, AFP quoted the defence ministry as saying. The rescue operation was ongoing on Tuesday night as investigators and the deputy defence minister arrived at the scene to determine the exact causes of the accident.
There was a sad atmosphere on Tuesday night in Djebel Kortas, close to Ain Mlila. The mountainous and densely wooded region is difficult to access. Ten kilometres separate the site where the aircraft crashed and the tarmac road. The cold and the snow did not put residents of neighbouring localities off from inquiring about the situation and offering assistance.
The sirens of ambulances and the security forces could be heard wailing throughout the night. Public works machinery was used to open up routes and finally reach the crash site.
"We could see the aircraft from afar, but we couldn't get to it," a civil protection officer told Magharebia. The aircraft split into two and one part caught fire.
According to Mebarki Chaker, a press officer from the Civil Protection Unit of Oum El Bouaghi, the aircraft exploded on impact with the mountain.
"The very unfavourable weather conditions and the storm accompanied by snowfalls in the region are thought to have led to the crash," read a defence ministry statement released Tuesday.
But it is still too early to draw any conclusions as to the actual cause of the crash, and the figure put on the number of deaths is still provisional.
Local sources said that the aircraft, which was 40 kilometres away from Constantine Airport, experienced mechanical problems. The control tower in Constantine had lost contact with it. But its commander called the military base in Oum El Bouaghi, which is not far away, to request permission for an emergency landing.
The aircraft was carrying soldiers and their family members, including children, from the southern city of Tamanrasset. The majority of the victims happened to be from the region where the crash occurred, including the captain and his family, who were travelling with him.
The crash reminded Algerians of the one that occurred on March 6th 2003, which involved a civil flight operated by Air Algérie in Tamanrasset that resulted in 103 fatalities.