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Indians feared dead in crash

Yaounde (Cameroon), May 5 (Reuters): Heavy rain and thick forest were hampering efforts to find a Kenya Airways passenger plane which crashed today shortly after takeoff in southern Cameroon with 114 people on board, including 15 Indians, officials said.

Military and civil aviation helicopters scoured a wide zone in the central African country between Kribi on the Atlantic coast and Ngomedzap, south of the capital Yaounde, but the remote location and poor weather did little to help.

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“We’ve even sent boys out on motorcycles along main routes in the region to see whether they can see any trace of the plane crash,” Jean-Francois Nzenang, senior administrative officer for the region around Kribi, said.

“It’s raining, which is impeding the search, but for now it is still going on ... Some of the area is inaccessible by road and there are no telecommunications signals,” he said.

In New Delhi, a ministry of external affairs official said they were in touch with the Indian high commission in Nairobi. “We are in touch with our high commission in Kenya and details are awaited,” the official said.

State radio earlier reported the plane had crashed near Nieté, north of the border with Equatorial Guinea, after taking off from Cameroon’s second city of Douala.

But after no wreckage was found, the search involving radar-equipped helicopters shifted to another area southwest of the capital — between the towns of Lolodorf and Ebolowa — where inhabitants said they had heard a loud explosion. “There have been two fly-overs and a third is out now,” said Celeste Mandeng, from Cameroon’s civil protection service. “But we are in a tropical zone, and the south is covered with thick forest,” he added.

Kenya Airways Group managing director Titus Naikuni told a news conference in Nairobi that the authorities in Cameroon had picked up a distress signal, automatically generated by a machine, from the area where the plane went missing.

Kenya Airways said the 737-800 airliner, which began its journey in Ivory Coast’s main city Abidjan and stopped over in Cameroon, was carrying 105 passengers and nine crew.

Other than Indians, the airline said there were Cameroonians, South Africans, Chinese, Nigerians, Ivorians, Britons and an American among the passengers. The crew were all Kenyans.

The company said the Douala control tower had received the last message from the aircraft right after takeoff. The plane had been due to land in Nairobi at 0315 GMT. Kenyan transport minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere said the US government was assisting in the search.

Worried relatives, several in tears, came to seek information at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. One woman passed through the lobby wailing, mobbed by journalists before she was ushered away by security staff.

Kenya Airways set up a crisis centre to monitor events and a passenger information centre at a hotel in Nairobi.

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