May 13, 2007

Cameroon defends delay in identifying plane crash site

YAOUNDE, (AFP) - Cameroon on Wednesday defended the delay in locating the crash site of a Kenya Airways jet, saying search operations were based on satellite information from France which were wide off the mark.

Kenya Airways has meanwhile announced that the Boeing 737 plummeted after taking off from Cameroon's commercial capital Douala overnight Friday just five miles away from the runway, killing all 114 on board.

Cameroon's Communications Minister Elihezer Njoh Mouelle said Douala airport had approached a satellite centre in Toulouse for help to track the site of the tragedy.

The centre said it was probably located "between the Nyong and So'o departments and the Indian Ocean," in Cameroon's extreme south, he 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.

Njoh Mouelle said Douala's control tower was trying to listen for "emissions from the plane's transmitter but apparently it was not working."

He said the control tower had also contacted five planes flying in the area but these "planes were unable to establish contact with the flight concerned."

Kenya Airways on Tuesday said the barely six-month-old plane crashed just outside Douala airport.

"We are talking about 30 seconds, so it had just lifted off," Kenya Airways chief pilot Captain James Ouma said. He gave the precise location of the site as just 5.42 kilometres (3.37 miles) from the end of the runway.

Kenya Airways chief Titus Naikuni said Wednesday that the plane's voice recorder had not been recovered, adding that 81 remains or body parts had been found.

Cameroonian aviation officials said the flight, KQ 507, linking Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan to the Kenyan capital Nairobi via Douala, disappeared from radar screens shortly after taking off in bad weather.

A Kenyan aviation official earlier said the plane could have been struck by lightning.

The plane was carrying 104 passengers from 27 countries. Equatorial Guinea's national radio Wednesday said the dead included two lawmakers from the oil-rich west African nation.


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