May 08, 2007

Probe to investigation all possibilities

Cameroon opened an inquiry on Tuesday into the crash of a Kenya Airways plane which rescuers took nearly two days to find, as forensic experts began identifying the remains of the 114 victims.

The investigation will try to establish why the Boeing 737-800, which was only six months old, plunged into swampy jungle minutes after taking off in stormy weather from Cameroon's second city of Douala late on Friday.

Questions were being asked about why rescue teams, including radar-equipped helicopters, spent nearly two days scouring forests 150km away before the crash site was located on Sunday barely 20km from Douala airport.

Cameroonian officials have said initial search efforts were based on satellite tracking data from Europe which seemed to put the plane's last position over the forests of south Cameroon.

"If the plane was detected 150km from Douala, and then was subsequently found not far from the airport, there is at least a question there," Celeste Mandeng of Cameroon's Civil Protection Service told Reuters.

He said the investigation would probe all possibilities, including the hypothesis that the pilot may have turned back and tried to re-land at Douala after running into difficulties.

Cameroon Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni ordered Transport Minister Dakole Daissala to lead a formal government inquiry into the crash, which once again threw the spotlight on air safety in Africa, the continent with the world's worst record.

On the edge of waterlogged jungle surrounding the crash site south of Douala, Red Cross officials and forensic experts strove to collect the remains of the nine crew and 105 passengers - of more than 20 nationalities - who were killed.

Blackened body parts were being laid out by white-coated workers on white plastic sheets at a makeshift rescue centre cut out of the jungle near the village of Mbanga Pongo.

"After being here for two to three days, the remains are in an advanced state of decomposition which makes them difficult to transport," said Cameroonian psychologist Dr Luc-Richard Kouoh Dipanda, near the crash site.

He said some distraught relatives of victims who had visited the crash site on Monday had fainted in shock. Rescue workers were under orders not to let them approach and to redirect them to psychological counselling centres in Douala.

Firemen were still pumping water from the crater caused by the crash. Overnight rain meant rescue workers were sometimes struggling in knee-deep mud.

Mandeng said the flight data recorder "black box" had been recovered, but the cockpit voice recorder had not yet been found. "Most of the plane was pulverised," he said.

He added US plane manufacturer Boeing was sending experts to help with the investigation.

The crash dealt a severe blow to the image of Kenya Airways, one of the most successful and modern companies in the east African nation.

The airline is listed on three East African bourses and is 26 percent owned by Air France's Dutch arm KLM.

Additional reporting by Finbarr O'Reilly in Douala, Tansa Musa in Yaounde and Wangui Kanina in Nairobi.


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