KHARTOUM, Sudan – A Sudanese Airbus carrying 214 people veered off the runway in a thunderstorm and burst into flames late Tuesday, killing dozens unable to escape the inferno. Officials said more than 100 people fled the plane before it was engulfed by towering orange flames.
The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that 103 passengers and all 11 crew members survived. But it said some other passengers may have gone home directly from the crash on the rain-soaked runway after crew members helped them through the emergency doors.
The death toll wasn’t immediately clear. Reports right after the crash said about 100 were killed, but officials later put the toll at dozens without being more precise. Deputy parliament speaker Mohammed al-Hassan al-Ameen said “about 30 people” died, while police spokesman Mohammed Abdel Majid al-Tayeb said 23 bodies were brought to the morgue.
The fire’s roaring flames dwarfed the Airbus A310’s shattered fuselage as firefighters sprayed water with little apparent effect, Sudanese TV footage showed. Media were kept away but an Associated Press reporter heard several explosions after flames engulfed the aircraft.
A survivor speaking at the airport to Sudanese TV said the landing was “rough,” and there was a sharp impact several minutes later.
“The right wing was on fire,” said the passenger, who did not give his name. He said smoke got into the cockpit and some people started opening the emergency exits. Soon, fire engulfed the plane, he said.
A sandstorm had hit the area with 20 mph winds between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. and there was a thunderstorm and similar winds at the time of the crash around 9 p.m., said Elaine Yang, a meterologist with the San Francisco-based Weather Underground, a private weather service.
The Sudanese ambassador to Washington called the weather “very bad” and said the runway had been drenched by rain.
“There was a lot of water on the runway and they still tried to land,” Ambassador John Ukec Lueth Ukec said.
The head of Sudanese police, Mohammad Najib, said bad weather “caused the plane to crash land, split into two and catch fire.” There were few non-Sudanese aboard, officials said.
The airport director told Sudanese TV that the plane “landed safely” in Khartoum and the pilot was talking to the control tower and getting further instructions when the accident occurred.
“One of the (plane’s) engines exploded and the plane caught fire,” the director said. He said bad weather did not cause the crash, which he blamed on a technical problem.
Raqeeb Abdel-Latif, head of the Sudan Airways office in Damascus, Syria, said the plane took off from Damascus and stopped in Amman. Due to inclement weather, the aircraft stopped at Port Sudan Airport along the Red Sea and refueled before heading back to Khartoum, the Sudanese ambassador said in Washington.
Sudan has a poor aviation safety record. In May, a plane crash killed 24 people, including key members of the southern Sudanese government.