GOMA, Congo – A Congolese jetliner with 79 people aboard crashed on takeoff Tuesday, careening off a runway into a busy neighborhood and bursting into flames. At least 21 people were killed, but most of those aboard survived, an airline official said.
U.N. peacekeepers and crew members struggled to evacuate the aircraft before the DC-9 went up in flames near a bustling outdoor market.
“The crew managed to save the majority of the passengers with the help” of peacekeepers, said Dirk Cramers, a spokesman for the private Congolese company Hewa Bora Airways.
Cramers put the death toll at 21 and said “most of the victims were people on the ground.” The Red Cross said 113 people had been injured and were being treated in local hospitals and clinics.
Congo, which is struggling to emerge from a 1998-2002 civil war, has experienced more fatal crashes since 1945 than any other African country, according to the nonprofit Aviation Safety Network. Last week, the European Union added Hewa Bora to its list of airlines banned from flying in the EU.
The aid agency World Vision, whose staffers went to the scene about a half-mile from its office, said in a statement that the plane “failed to leave the ground,” plowing “through wooden houses and shops in the highly populated Birere market.”
One of the plane’s pilots reported that an engine died as the plane taxied down the runway, said regional Gov. Julien Mpaluku. When the pilots tried to brake, a tire failed as well, he said.
It was unclear if weather played a part in the crash. It had stopped raining about one hour before the DC-9 took off at about 3 p.m., residents said.
Goma’s runway was partially blocked and effectively shortened by lava from a 2001 volcanic eruption. The plane appeared to have burst through a fence separating the runway from a market district.
The jetliner had been headed to the central city of Kisangani and then to the capital, Kinshasa, 700 miles to the west.