May 06, 2007

Hopes fade for 114 onboard downed flight

HOPES WERE fading last night for five Britons among 114 people on board an aircraft which crashed in southern Cameroon yesterday.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the Kenya Airways Boeing 737-800 shortly after take-off.

Rescue teams were last night scouring remote rainforest between Kribi on the Atlantic coast and Ngomedzap, south of the capital Yaounde for wreckage and survivors. The teams had narrowed their search to between the towns of Lolodorf and Ebolowa, where inhabitants said they had heard a loud explosion.

The aircraft, which was just six months old, originated in the Ivory Coast but stopped in the coastal city of Douala in Cameroon to pick up passengers. It took off again after midnight, bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but soon afterwards sent an automatic distress signal.

One of the Britons believed to be onboard is journalist Anthony Mitchell, a Nairobi-based correspondent with the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

He had been on assignment in the region for the past week and had contacted his family before boarding the flight to tell them he was heading home.

He was expelled from Ethiopia in January 2006 after being accused of portraying the country in a bad light through his reporting for AP.

The Ethiopian government told Mitchell, who had worked in the country for over five years, that he was no longer welcome and gave him 24 hours to leave.

AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll said today: "We hope for the best."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it had been informed of the names of the five Britons on the flight but was not making the remaining four public at this stage.

At first it was unclear whether the aircraft came down in Cameroon or across the national border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an FCO spokesman said. As a result, British consular staff in the Cameroon capital, Yaounde; the DRC capital, Kinshasa; and Abuja in Nigeria, were standing by to travel to the crash site when it is located. An FCO spokesman said: "As soon as we have got the actual location of the aircraft confirmed, we can dispatch people to the area."

The aircraft took off an hour late because of heavy rain, but Douala airport officials said this was unlikely to have caused the crash.

Thomas Sobatam, the airport's head of weather observation, said: "There was a thunderstorm, but there were other planes that left after the Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi that had no problems."

Kenya's transport minister, Ali Chirau Makwere, said it was too early to determine the cause of the accident.

He said: "We need to get information from the technical experts as to whether it was occasioned by the weather or pilot error or mechanical fault. It's too early to make any conclusions."

Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said there were no safety concerns with the US aerospace company's 737-800s.

By James Hamilton. Contact:

No comments: