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Aircraft crashes in Walungu, 26 feared dead

KINSHASA/GOMA, 26 May 2005 (IRIN) - A Soviet-era aircraft carrying 21 passengers and five crew crashed on Wednesday in a remote forest in the territory of Walungu, in Democratic Republic of Congo's South Kivu Province.

"According to residents of the crash area, there appears to be no survivors," Didas Kaningini, the deputy governor of the province, told IRIN on Thursday.

However, Raymond Sangara, the coordinator of the national civil aviation authority in Goma - capital of the eastern province of North Kivu - told IRIN that the deaths of those onboard could not be confirmed.

The four-engine propeller aircraft crashed in a bamboo forest deep in the Walungu mountains, Sangara said.

He added that a rescue team had been sent to the area but that fighting there between government soldiers and armed groups of Rwandan Hutus could hamper its efforts.

The Antonov-12 belonged to Victoria Air, a local carrier. It was destined for Kindu, provincial capital of Maniema, but lost contact with the air traffic control shortly after taking off from Goma on Wednesday morning, Sangara said.

He said a Russian flew the aircraft and that the remaining crewmembers were Ukrainian. The passengers, all Congolese, included women and children. The aircraft was carrying 16,300 kg of freight, he added.

Two helicopters from the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) have been flying over the area since the aircraft disappeared, Sangara said.

The cause of the accident is not yet known.

Aeroplane crashes have occurred frequently in the past in the DRC, including one earlier in May. That aircraft was also an Antonov-26. All 10 people on board were killed.

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