TUE 11 - 12 - 2018
Apr 12, 2018
The Daily Star
Algerian military plane crashes after takeoff, killing 257 people
ALGIERS: An Algerian military plane carrying soldiers, their families and some refugees crashed soon after takeoff Wednesday into a field in northern Algeria, killing 257 people in what appeared to be the nation’s worst-ever aviation disaster. Algeria’s Defense Ministry said those killed included 247 passengers and 10 crew. An Algerian-backed group seeking independence for Western Sahara said 30 of its people, including women and children, were among the dead.
The cause of the crash was unclear and an investigation has been opened.
Algerian authorities did not mention any survivors but one witness reported seeing some people jump out of the aircraft before it crashed at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday. Algerian TV Dzair said five people were in a critical state but it’s unclear whether they were inside the plane when it crashed.
The flight had just taken off from the Boufarik military base, 30 kilometers southwest of the capital Algiers, for the southwestern military base in Bechar, according to Farouk Achour, spokesman for Algeria’s civil protection services. The flight also included a layover in the southern city of Tindouf, he said.
The Soviet-designed Il-76 military transport plane crashed in a farm field with no people nearby, Achour said.
Footage from the scene showed thick black smoke coming off the field, ambulances and Red Crescent vehicles arriving at the crash site and body bags lined up in the field.
Several witnesses told Algerian TV network Ennahar they saw flames coming out of one of the planes’ engines just before it took off. One farmer said some passengers jumped out of the aircraft before the accident.
“The plane started to rise before falling,” an unidentified man lying on what seemed to be a hospital bed told Ennahar TV. “The plane crashed on its wing first and caught fire.”
The victims’ bodies have been transported to the Algerian army’s central hospital for identification.
Algeria is vast and plane flights are often the best way to traverse Africa’s largest nation.
Tindouf is home to many refugees from the neighboring Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco.
A member of Algeria’s ruling FLN party told Ennahar the dead included 26 members of the Polisario Front, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of Western Sahara.
A source close to Polisario said that the dead included four refugee children and that around 30 refugees who had received medical treatment in the capital had been killed in all.
Tindouf is home to tens of thousands of refugees from the Western Sahara standoff, and a source close to Polisario said the flight route is one that is taken regularly by Western Saharan refugees.
Algeria President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared three days of national mourning and prayers for the dead Friday.
The Il-76 model has been in production since the 1970s and has an overall good safety record. It is widely used for both commercial freight and military transport. The Algerian military operates several of the planes.
It was the first crash of an Algerian military plane since February 2014, when a U.S.-built C-130 Hercules turboprop crashed into a mountain in Algeria, killing at least 76 people and leaving just one survivor.
The heavy loss of life of soldiers is certain to shake the North African country to the core.
The National Liberation Army – which grew out of the fighting force which freed Algeria from French colonial rule – is revered by Algerians.
Today, the army is credited with saving the nation from a deadly insurgency by Islamist extremists in the 1990s and early 2000s. The battle continues with sporadic attacks around Algeria and networks dismantled by soldiers.
The army’s experience fighting terrorism has made it a valued ally of the United States and other Western nations.
The U.S. Embassy in Algiers expressed its “deepest condolences” to “our partners and colleagues in the Algerian military” as well as their families.
The previous deadliest crash on Algerian soil occurred in 2003, when 102 people were killed after a civilian airliner crashed at the end of the runway in Tamanrasset.
There was a single survivor in that crash.
Also in 2003, 10 people died when an Algerian Air Force C-130 crashed after an engine caught fire shortly after it took off from the air base near Boufarik, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
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