Algeria plane crash: Nearly 260 dead after military transport aircraft crashes near Algiers
Nearly 260 people including members of Western Sahara’s Polisario independence movement were killed when an Algerian military plane crashed soon after takeoff, officials said.
TV footage showed crowds gathering around the smoking and flaming wreckage near the Boufarik military base, near the capital Algiers.
A line of white body bags could be seen on the ground next to what media said was a Russian Ilyushin transport plane.
A total of 257 people died in the crash, the Algerian defence ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said 247 passengers and 10 crew members were killed.
A member of Algeria’s ruling FLN party told the Ennahar TV station the dead included 26 members of Polisario, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of neighbouring Western Sahara, a territory also claimed by Morocco in a long-running dispute.
Algerian authorities did not mention whether there were any survivors but one witness reported seeing some people jump out of the aircraft before it crashed.
TV Dzair said five people were in a critical state, but it was unclear whether they were inside the plane when it crashed.
Footage from the scene showed thick black smoke coming off the field, as well as ambulances and Red Crescent vehicles arriving at the site.
The tail fin of a plane could be seen above olive trees, with smoke and flames rising from the wreckage.
Several witnesses told Ennahar TV they saw flames coming out of one of the planes’ engines just before it took off. One farmer said some passengers jumped out of the aircraft before the accident.
“The plane started to rise before falling,” an unidentified man lying on what seemed to be a hospital bed told Ennahar TV. “The plane crashed on its wing first and caught fire.”
Farouk Achour, chief spokesman for the civil protection agency, said the plane was carrying soldiers.
He said some passengers were “extracted with deep burns caused by the fuselage catching fire.”
The cause of the crash remained unclear and an investigation has been opened, Algeria’s defence ministry said.
The ministry said most of the victims were soldiers and their relatives and the victims’ bodies were transported to the Algerian army’s central hospital in the town of Ain Naadja for identification.
The flight had just taken off from Boufarik, located in northern Algeria, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of the capital Algiers, for a military base in Bechar in southwest Algeria, Mr Achour said.
It was scheduled to make a layover in Tindouf in southern Algeria, home to many refugees from the neighbouring Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco.
The Soviet-designed Il-76 military transport plane crashed in an agricultural zone with no residents, Mr Achour said.
The Il-76 model has been in production since 1970s and has an overall good safety record. It is widely used for both commercial freight and military transport.