Kinshasa, May 9 (Reuters): Scores of soldiers with their wives and children were sucked to their deaths from a cargo plane over the Democratic Republic of Congo after the back ramp burst open, one of the survivors said today.
Congo’s information minister said seven people were sucked out of the Russian-built plane ferrying military personnel from Kinshasa to the southern Katanga province on Thursday evening.
“I think there were about 200 people on board, soldiers and their families, women and children,” said Prudent Mukalayi, a soldier recovering at Kinshasa’s general hospital who said he survived because he was jammed against a packing case.
“I was asleep and then I heard people screaming. When I woke up, the pilot told everyone to get to the front of the plane and there were about 40 of us, but people kept dying... there were only about 20 survivors.”
Information minister Kikaya Bin Karubi told reporters the ramp had burst open at 10,000 feet over the city of Mbuji-Mayi.
He did not know how many people were aboard the plane, but a Russian aviation official said he believed there were 129 passengers, a mixture of military officials and civilians. AFP quoted military sources as saying 169 people were presumed dead.
After the disaster, the aircraft’s crew managed to turn the plane around and land in the capital Kinshasa. Witnesses at the airport said the plane looked old and run down. The back door had snapped away.
The plane, an Ilyushin 76 (picture top), was chartered by the Congolese army to fly from the capital to Lubumbashi.
Officials said it was common for the army and the government to charter cargo planes to transport military personnel and civil servants, often with their families.
The Ilyushin 76 is one of the workhorses in the transport fleet of the Indian Air Force. The IAF has a full squadron of IL 76 whose main task is air maintenance of the northern sector. The IAF has reconverted the interiors of some of the IL 76s to fly passengers and these aircraft can accommodate up to 200 people.
In 1991, during the first Gulf War, the IL 76 was flown to Dubai and Basra to evacuate stranded Indians in what is touted to be the biggest airlift operation.
The Ilyushin factory in Uzebkistan was in dire straits and an Indian order for refuellers had helped revive its production line.