May 05, 2007

Jet with 114 aboard crashes in Cameroon

YAOUNDE, Cameroon - A Kenya Airways jet with 114 people on board crashed early Saturday after sending out a distress signal over a remote rainforest in southern Cameroon, officials said. Nearby villagers reported hearing a loud boom.

The Nairobi-bound jet went down near the town of Lolodorf, about 155 miles south of the coastal city of Douala, where it had taken off after midnight, said Alex Bayeck, a regional communications officer.

There was no word on survivors, said Bayeck, speaking by telephone en route to the crash site. He said search planes were flying over the forested area where the airliner gave off a distress signal, but no wreckage had been spotted.

He said residents in the area, which has few roads and is dotted by small villages, reported hearing a "large boom" during the night. "Searchers have gone out looking in this area," he said.

Kenya Airways CEO Titus Naikuni said the plane, which was almost new, took off an hour late because of rain.

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

"We need to get information from the technical experts as to whether it was occasioned by the weather or pilot error or mechanical fault," he said in Nairobi. "We really don't know. It's too early to make any conclusions."

The Boeing 737-800 was carrying 114 people, including 105 passengers, from 23 countries, Kenyan airline officials said. A Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent, Anthony Mitchell, was believed to be among the passengers.

"Anthony had been on assignment in Cameroon for the past week, and had contacted his family before boarding the flight to let them know he was headed home. We hope for the best," AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said.

Relatives waiting at Nairobi's airport began wailing as news reports of the crash filtered in. Dozens of family members collapsed in the airport terminal.

One person at the airport said families had not been given any information. "I cannot talk now because there is no news," he said, declining to give his name.

The flight departed Douala at 12:05 a.m. and was to arrive in Nairobi at 6:15 a.m. The flight originated in Ivory Coast but stopped in Cameroon to pick up more passengers, the airline said.

"The last message was received in Douala after takeoff and thereafter the tower was unable to contact the plane," Kenya Airways' Naikuni said earlier Saturday.

The Douala-Nairobi flight runs several times a week, and is commonly used as an intermediary flight to Europe and the Middle East.

Kenya Airways — considered one of the safest airlines in Africa — said most passengers were planning to transfer to ongoing flights in Nairobi. Naikuni said the plane was only six months old when it crashed.

The last crash of an international Kenya Airways flight was on Jan. 30, 2000, when Flight 431 was taking off from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on its way to Nairobi. Investigators blamed a faulty alarm and pilot error for that crash, which killed 169 people.

Associated Press writer Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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