Plane crashes into neighbourhood in Congo, dozens dead

A passenger jet carrying 85 people crashed into a residential neighbourhood in the eastern region of Congo on Tuesday, killing dozens, officials and witnesses said.

Airline was banned from flying in the European Union

A passenger jet carrying 85 people crashed into a residential neighbourhood in the eastern region of Congo on Tuesday, killing dozens, officials and witnesses said.

Rescue workers and onlookers gather at the site of the plane crash in Goma, Congo, on Tuesday. ((Lauren Vopni/Associated Press) )

Eyewitness reports said the plane, a DC-9, appeared to falter shortly after takeoff from Goma airport and hurtled into a populated neighbourhood near the airport in the central African nation, also known as Congo-Kinshasa.

Rescue workers carried about 20 bodies from the plane, many on stretchers, World Vision aid worker Anna Ridout told the Associated Press from the scene.

As of late Tuesday, there was no confirmed tally of the dead and injured. Initially, government officials had put the death toll at 79.

The DC-9 is owned by Hewa Bora, a private company, according to the governor of Congo's Eastern Province, Julien Mpaluku.

"We have already picked up many bodies — dozens of bodies," Mpaluku said. "There are a lot of flames, which makes it difficult to know if the bodies we are picking up are those of passengers of the plane or else passers-by or people that lived in the area where the plane crashed.

Dirk Cramers, a representative of Hewa Bora, said at least 53 passengers and seven crew members were taken to hospitals.

The flight was headed to Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, said Gauthier Iloko, the adjunct commander of the Goma airport, who put the number of survivors from the inside the plane at at least 10.

Congo renowned for poor air safety record

The DC-9 is one of the older passenger aircraft still in commercial use. The last model was manufactured in 1982.

Just last Friday, the European Union added Hewa Bora Airways to its blacklist of airlines banned from flying in the EU without specifying a reason.

On Tuesday, EU spokesman Michele Cercone said she had no information on Hewa Bora specifically, but she said that all airlines based in Congo are banned from EU airspace.

"That is because there is a general lack of effective control by the civil aviation authorities there to monitor and maintain minimum technical standards [for airplanes]," Cercone said.

The neighbourhood of Birere where the plane went down is located just beyond the runway. A volcanic eruption in 2001 destroyed part of the takeoff path that actually went through Birere, officials said.  

Congo has one of the poorest air safety records in the world. It has relatively few passable roads after decades of war and corrupt rule, forcing the country's deeply impoverished people to rely on boats and planes to move around.

One of the worst air accidents in the country's history occurred in 1996, when an Antonov 32 turboprop crashed seconds after takeoff from Kinshasa's airport, plowing into a crowded, open-air market and killing about 300 people.  

With files from the Associated Press