The Associated Press
By Mohamed Osman
June 11, 2008
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Investigators examined the scorched hull of a jetliner Wednesday to determine what caused the plane to veer off a runway and burst into flames, killing at least 30 people, officials said.
The Sudan Airways jet skidded off the runaway and rammed into the lights used by pilots to navigate when landing in bad weather, sparking a fire on the right side of the aircraft, police spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdel Majid Al-Tayeb said.
At least 30 people died in the accident, raising the toll by one, Sudan Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdel Hafez Abdel Rahim Mahmoud told The Associated Press. About 170 managed to escape and about 14 others remain unaccounted for, he said.
Many fleeing passengers did not bother to pass through customs, making the toll initially difficult to ascertain, officials said. It was unclear whether the latest death was from a survivor or a missing passenger.
The jet appeared to have gone off the runway after landing at Khartoum International Airport, and several loud explosions resounded as fire raced through the aircraft, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.
The roaring blaze dwarfed the Airbus A310’s shattered fuselage as firefighters sprayed water, Sudanese TV footage showed. Ambulances and fire trucks rushed to the scene, and media were kept away.
One survivor 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.
“As we landed, the engine burst into flame — I was sitting right next to it,” passenger Kamal Eddin Mohammed told the pan-Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera. “It was horror inside the plane.”
Sudan’s aviation authority asked its counterpart in Amman, Jordan, for the passenger manifest to determine who was actually on board, as the original was destroyed in the crash, the official SUNA news agency reported.
The flight originated in Damascus, Syria, then stopped in Amman.
Al-Tayeb told SUNA on Wednesday morning that the fire had been extinguished and civil defense officials were examining the wreckage to figure out what caused the crash, which occurred late Tuesday.
Reports differed on the role the weather may have played in the crash.
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 9 p.m. crash, said Elaine Yang, a meteorologist with the San Francisco-based Weather Underground, a private weather service.
The head of Sudanese police, Mohammad Najib, said bad weather “caused the plane to crash land, split into two and catch fire.”
Youssef Ibrahim, the airport director, blamed the accident on technical problems, but didn’t elaborate. He told Sudanese TV that the plane “landed safely” 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,” Ibrahim said.
Due to inclement weather, the aircraft stopped at Port Sudan Airport along the Red Sea, picking up 35 passengers and refueling before heading to Khartoum. Khartoum’s airport reopened on Wednesday.
Thousands of people gathered in a large cemetery in the capital for a burial ceremony lead by senior government officials. Dozens of bodies, including at least two children, wrapped in white burial shrouds were lying on the ground as people prepared to pray.
Sudan has a poor aviation safety record. In May, a plane crash in a remote area of southern Sudan killed 24 people, including key members of the southern Sudanese government. In July 2003, a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 en route from Port Sudan to Khartoum crashed soon after takeoff, killing all 115 people on board.
The Airbus A310 is a twin-engine, widebody plane used by a number of carriers around the world. Typically configured with about 220 seats, it is a shorter version of the popular A300.
Airbus said in a statement that it was sending a team of specialists to Khartoum to help in the investigation. It said the plane involved in the accident was 18 years old and had been operated by Sudan Airways since September.
Investigators from France were also taking part in the inquiry because the plane was made by France-based Airbus.
Associated Press Writers Pakinam Amer, Omar Sinan and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo, Albert Aji in Damascus, Donna Borak and Matt Lee in Washington, Adam Schreck in New York, Angela Doland in Paris and John Heilprin at the United Nations contributed to this report.