May 13, 2007

Cameroon crash: 1 500 mourn MTN victims

About 1 500 mourners gathered on Friday at the Douala, Cameroon, offices of a South African cellphone company that lost four staff members in a Kenya Airways plane crash last Saturday that killed all 114 aboard.

The head of MTN's Cameroon operations, Campbell Utton, was on board, as was its chief financial officer, Sarah Stewart, company secretary Patrick Njamfa and network engineer Patrice Enam.

The four were travelling to South Africa for a business meeting and Stewart was accompanied by her husband, Adam Stewart. Utton was South African, the Stewarts were British and Njamfa and Enam were Cameroonian.

The mourners gathered at the MTN headquarters in Douala for an ecumenical service led by a Muslim imam, a Catholic priest and a Presbyterian preacher.

"Our hearts are broken. Our hearts are heavy," said Emmanuel Ncheng, the Presbyterian.

Blaise Yong, Enam's brother, travelled more than 1 200km to attend the service. "This is Cameroon's death. It is not only ours," he said.

He said his brother had become a father three weeks ago. Enam's weeping widow, Agatha, attended the ceremony, still recovering from a Caesarean delivery and clutching the arm of her doctor.

Meanwhile, the chief of Kenya's civil air authority said the emergency beacon of the plane had probably malfunctioned, making it difficult to locate the craft. "The emergency beacon usually starts working as soon as there is a shock and emits a signal for at least eight hours. In this case it seems to have worked for less than two seconds," Ignatius Sana Juma said.

It took the authorities nearly 48 hours to locate the site, a delay that has come in for some heavy criticism, especially after it emerged that the plane had gone down almost immediately after take-off from Douala airport. - Sapa-AP-AFP


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