Sudan Plane inferno kills 100 in Khartoum

Sudan Airways plane inferno kills 100 in Khartoum

KHARTOUM (AFP) — Around 100 people burned to death when a Sudan Airways Airbus caught fire after landing at Khartoum airport Tuesday, officials and state television said.

Airport authorities said an engine caught fire, spreading to the fuselage, whilst TV reports stated that the weather conditions at the time of the landing were poor, with the capital hit by first a sandstorm and then heavy showers.

“Preliminary reports indicate that about half the 203 passengers on board are dead,” a television presenter said.

At least 103 passengers and 10 of 11 crew survived, although an unknown number of passengers left the crash scene without registering with the authorities, said a civil aviation authority statement read out on television.

The plane had just touched down from Amman via Damascus when the fire broke out, the television said.

Airport director Yussef Ibrahim said the blaze was caused when an engine exploded.

“There was an explosion in one of the engines and the plane caught fire,” he said in a television interview.

“The plane landed at 8:45,” civil aviation official El-Sheikh el-Faki told AFP. “It landed OK and then it skidded and caught fire.”

Television pictures showed flames tearing through the upper section of the fuselage hours after the fire broke out and an emergency escape slide could be seen attached to one of the central doors of the plane.

State Transport Minister Mabruk Mubarak Salim said that “today’s weather is one of the main reasons for what happened.”

The plane had been forced to land in Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, before being authorised to continue on to Khartoum because the weather was so bad, Salim said.

“I’ve been travelling a lot, I know when a landing is rough,” survivor Awad Mohamed Idris, a retired Sudan Airways employee, told AFP. “This landing was very rough.”

“When it came to a stop, fire was burning the right side of the plane and was beginning to burn the inside of the plane.”

He said that the safety briefing before take off from Port Sudan had been cut short and that “the pilot seemed in a hurry.”

After landing, the cabin filled with smoke and he jumped onto an escape chute, Idris said. “After I left the plane I was still coughing.”

Idris managed to find his relatives in the arrivals hall, but another man who gave his name as Aman said he was looking for the one-year-old child of a couple who had been hospitalised.

Riot police reinforcements were sent to the airport where anxious relatives’ emotions boiled over.

“These guys have no procedures,” shouted a man who gave his name as Mohammed, whose sister-in-law and her three children were on the flight. “They’re not well equipped, they should have called on us to help.”

Mohammed said that he knew that two of the children had survived but had no news of his sister-in-law and the youngest child.

Police official Mohammed Naguib al-Tayyeb had earlier told the broadcaster that most passengers had managed to escape the aircraft without injury but some had suffered burns.

Emergency services rushed to the burning aircraft and had by late Tuesday brought the fire under control, an AFP correspondent on the scene said.

Ibrahim Saleh, one of the passengers at the back of the plane, told AFP he had not seen many bodies but that there had been “many injured” on the tarmac.

He had first helped children off the plane before he himself had left.

“When I got out there were still many people on board,” he said.

Abbas al-Fadini, a member of the Sudanese parliament who was on the plane, told CNN television that he was in the front of the plane and was among those who exited first.

Sudanese Ambassador to the United States John Ukec told CNN that the weather had been “terrible” when the plane landed in Khartoum.

“The plane veered off the runway. There was a lot of rain and a lot of mud and this caused the crash. It is a tragedy. The plane simply veered off the runway. There’s no terrorism involved.

The disaster is the latest in a long line of fatal air crashes and mishaps in Sudan.

In May this year, south Sudan’s defence minister was killed in a plane crash along with at least 22 other people, most of them senior members of the southern former rebel leadership.

In July 2003, 115 people were killed when a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 was destroyed in a ball of fire as it attempted to land at the Red Sea coast resort of Port Sudan after apparently suffering an engine problem soon after take-off.

After that crash, the Khartoum government said the Sudanese air fleet was growing old and that the national airliner had not been able to buy spare parts for its US-made aircraft due to economic sanctions imposed by Washington, which has placed Sudan on its list of countries supporting terrorism.

Washington maintains that the sanctions do not prevent the delivery of spare parts for planes if these are requested.