Algerian military plane crash after takeoff kills 257 people
Defence Ministry says cause of the crash is unclear, an investigation has been opened
A military plane carrying soldiers and their families crashed soon after takeoff in a farm field in northern Algeria on Wednesday, killing 257 people in what appeared to be the worst plane crash in the North African nation's history.
Algeria's Defence Ministry said those killed included 247 passengers and 10 crew members.
The cause of the crash was unclear, and an investigation has been opened, the ministry said.
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 at 7:50 a.m. local time.
The flight had just taken off from the Boufarik military base, 30 kilometres southwest of the capital Algiers, for a military base in Bechar in southwest Algeria, according to Farouk Achour, the chief spokesperson for the civil protection services. 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.
A member of Algeria's ruling FLN party told the private Ennahar TV station the dead included 26 members of Polisario, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of Western Sahara.
The Soviet-designed Il-76 military transport plane crashed in a farm field with no people nearby, Achour said.
Algerian TV Dzair said five people were in a critical state, but it's unclear whether they were inside the plane when it crashed.
Footage from the scene showed thick black smoke rising from the field, ambulances and Red Crescent vehicles arriving at the crash site and body bags lined up in the field.
Several witnesses told Algerian TV network Ennahar 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.
Most of the victims were soldiers and their relatives, the ministry said, and the bodies were transported to the Algerian army's central hospital in the town of Ain Naadja for identification.
The prime minister's office said lawmakers and officials observed a minute of silence as a tribute to the victims.
It was the first crash of an Algerian military plane since February 2014, when a U.S.-built C-130 Hercules turboprop slammed into a mountain, killing at least 76 people and leaving just one survivor.
The previous deadliest crash on Algerian soil occurred in 2003, when 102 people were killed after a civilian airliner went down at the end of the runway in Tamanrasset. There was a single survivor.
The Il-76 model has been in production since 1970s. It is widely used for both commercial freight and military transport. The Algerian military operates several of the planes.
With files from Reuters