At least25 peopleare deadafter a cargo plane crashed into a busy residential neighbourhood in Congo's capital city Thursday morning,officials said, as rescue workers continued to pull unidentified bodies from the rubble.

congo2-cp-3690461

A rescue worker labours at the site of a crashed cargo plane Thursday, as firefighters hose down the smoking rubble of a building, in Kinshasa, Congo. ((John Bompengo/Associated Press))

Several houses were destroyed whena Russian Antonov 26plowed into a crowded market area of the Kingasani neighbourhood in Kinshasa around 10:30 a.m., according to an airport official.

A UN peacekeeping spokesman, Michel Bonnardeau, said25 people were killedin the crash while two on the plane survived, including a mechanic and an air hostess who is in critical condition.

The plane's flight manifest indicated there were 16 people on the aircraft, but more boarded before takeoff, civil aviation chief Alphonse Ilunga said. The plane was staffed by a Russian crew, according to media reports.

It was not immediatelyclear what caused the crash, or how many on the ground may have been killed.

A witness said the market, which is about five kilometres from the airport, was full of people at the time of the crash.

"The plane clipped several treetops and hit the roofs of three houses, crashing onto its back with its tires in the air," said Japhet Kiwa, who lives in the impoverished neighbourhood. "There was a huge explosion."

Laurent Kongolo said he and several other people pulled a woman from the burning wreckage of one of the homes. "She was between life and death," he said. "It was horrible."

UN-funded Radio Okapi cited other witnesses saying the plane damaged 10 houses on three streets.

Congo air safety questionable

Cargo planes in Congo are frequently flown by experienced pilots from former Soviet states but the aircraft are often old, ill-maintained and overcrowded.

The crew of an Antonov 12 cargo planewere killed last month when their flight crashed at an airport in the eastern Congolese town of Goma.

In August, an overloadedcargo plane crashed in Katanga province, killing 14 people. The government subsequently suspended the national director of civil aviation, and the licences of a number of local private airlines.

In 1996, an Antonov 32 turboprop crashed after takeoff from Kinshasa's main airport, skidding across a busy street and into a crowded open-air market.

The crash, one of the worst in Congo's history, killed at least 300 people.

Cargo planes are not permitted to carry passengers, though some continue to board them secretly.

Impassable roads damaged bydecades of war and corrupt rule force many in Congo to rely on boats and planes for transportation.

With files from the Associated Press