May 10, 2007

US team to investigate crash

Douala - US aviation experts conferred with their Kenyan and Cameroonian counterparts on Wednesday in an effort to determine what caused a Kenya Airways jet to crash into a central African swamp, killing all 114 people on board.

A team from the US National Transportation Safety Board was meeting with the African experts, said Lonnie Kelley, the US Embassy spokesperson in Cameroon.

British experts and officials from Boeing, which made the 737-800 that crashed on Saturday, also were expected to arrive later Wednesday.

Kenya Airways chairperson Evanson Mwaniki said his company was bringing in British forensic and DNA specialists and equipment to help identify bodies.

Bodies were being found in pieces and badly decomposed after more than 40 hours in the water, making the "identification process more complicated and time consuming", said Mwaniki.

Kenya Airways officials said on Wednesday the remains of 81 of those aboard had been recovered so far.

Questioning the crash

The airline's chief pilot, James Ouma, said on Tuesday Kenyan crash investigators at the site now believe Flight 507 crashed about 30 seconds after takeoff.

Officials in Cameroon had said earlier they lost contact with the aircraft 11 to 13 minutes into the flight, but as their investigation continued, they appeared less sure of the timing on Wednesday.

Questions have arisen as to when a distress signal believed emitted by the plane was sent - or whether it was even from the plane.

It took nearly two days to find the wreckage, most of it submerged in murky orange-brown water and concealed by a thick canopy of trees.

The parts that have been salvaged so far - including the black box data recorder, parts of an auxiliary power unit and the rudder - were from the back part of the plane.

The nose and most of the front part of the plane were not visible, but it appeared the plane was headed away from the airport and on what would have been a normal takeoff path at the time of the crash.

A 'safe' airline

Initially, the search focused on the rugged, forested area near the town of Lolodorf, about 140km southeast of Douala.

Cameroonian officials have said they were led astray by an incorrect satellite signal, possibly emitted from the plane.

Fishermen living in the swampy mangroves near the Douala airport reported hearing a loud sound at the time of the crash.

While air travel in Africa is notoriously perilous, Kenya Airways is considered one of Africa's safest airlines.


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