ISMAILIA, Egypt A plane belonging to the multinational observer force that monitors the Egyptian-Israeli border crashed on Sunday in the Sinai peninsula, killing eight French soldiers and a Canadian, security sources said.
The sources said the aircraft had hit a truck while trying to make an emergency landing on a Sinai road, but managed to briefly regain altitude before finally crashing and exploding.
"I heard a loud explosion and saw fire. I saw remains on a wide area. There was no one alive," said Abdel Qader Salman, a Bedouin man in central Sinai.
Security sources said they believed the crash of the twin-engined propeller plane was caused by mechanical problems, although the plane's black box had not yet been recovered. Foul play was not suspected.
The charred remains of five people were found in the wreckage, and a search was under way for remains of four other passengers recorded as having boarded the plane, Egyptian aviation and security sources said.
The French defense ministry said eight French and one Canadian soldier had died. Egyptian state news agency MENA said the pilot had called in to report a problem with one of the aircraft's engines before contact was lost.
The plane had been on a training and orientation mission, the director-general of the Multinational Force and Observers Mission in Sinai, Normand St. Pierre, told Reuters.
"We lost contact, and I have no reason to believe it was anything but mechanical failure," he said.
TRUCK DRIVER SURVIVES
The Egyptian driver of the truck jumped from his vehicle as the plane hit it, and was believed to have survived although his truck caught fire and burned, security sources said. They said they were convinced all on the plane had died.
The French Twin Otter plane had been heading from El-Gorah in northern Sinai, site of the observer force's main base, to Saint Catherine in the south when it crashed near al-Nakhel in central Sinai.
The crash was the second fatal transport accident this year involving members of the Sinai observer force, which has also been an occasional target for Islamist militants.
In March, eight Egyptian engineers from the observer force were killed in a road crash while riding in a private taxi.
Last year, a suicide bomber blew himself up near an airport used by the multinational force. In August 2005, militants attacked a vehicle of the observers, injuring two Canadians.
More than 100 people, most of them Egyptians, have been killed in three bomb attacks in Sinai since 2004 that the Egyptian government has blamed on Sinai Bedouin.
The observer force, set up to supervise security provisions in the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, has contingents from 11 countries: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Fiji, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, the United States and Uruguay.