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Transport Minister Fired in DRC After Deadly Plane Crash

VOA News - October 5, 2007

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A Congolese government spokesman announced Friday that the country's transport minister has been fired for incompetence, after a deadly plane crash Thursday left at least 37 people dead.  As the flames from the crash subsided on Friday, rescue workers searched the wreckage for bodies. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar. 

Serge Mulumba, a senior official at Congo's Humanitarian Affairs Ministry, says only one person on board the flight, the mechanic, escaped the crash alive.

He says at least 30 people were injured and nine houses were destroyed in the crash.

He adds that aid workers are working to find and identify bodies, contact family members, and arrange temporary housing for people on the ground whose homes were destroyed.

A local journalist, Eddy Isango, says the flames had previously prevented aid workers from combing the wreckage. 

U.N. mission spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux says the fire was put out Thursday but restarted overnight.

"We heard this morning through the local news that the fire had restarted during the night so the emergency services were dispatched again and tried to put out the fire once and for all," he explained.

The accident took place Thursday morning in Congo's capital Kinshasa. Moments after take-off, the plane crashed into a residential neighbourhood, exploding into flames.

Bonnardeaux says the crash was a result of engine failure.

 "[The] plane took off from Julie airport, which is the central airport in Kinshasa, and experienced some engine troubles from the looks of it, tried to return to the airport, and did not quite make it," he added.

Congolese airplanes are often old and poorly maintained.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, a private flight safety group, the DRC has experienced more fatal plane crashes in the last fifty years than any other African country.

In 1996, 300 people were killed when an airplane crashed into an open-air market seconds after take-off.

The Soviet-era plane, which crashed on Thursday, was owned by the Congolese company Africa One, one of over 50 Congolese airlines banned from flying in the European Union because of safety concerns.

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