Aid plane crashes in Congo, 17 feared dead
KINSHASA (Reuters) - A humanitarian plane carrying 17 passengers and crew that went missing in Democratic Republic of Congo has crashed into a mountain and all aboard are feared dead, the flight contractor said on Tuesday.
A copy of the passenger manifest seen by Reuters showed that six foreigners were aboard, from France, India, Canada, Congo Republic, South Africa and Britain, the last two of them pilots. The remaining 11 passengers were listed in the manifest as citizens of Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rescue helicopters spotted the wreckage early on Tuesday of the 19-seat Beechcraft aircraft, contracted by Air Serv International, around 15 km (nine miles) northwest of the town of Bukavu, on Congo's eastern border with Rwanda.
The plane had been on its way to Bukavu from the city of Kisangani on Monday when it lost contact with ground control as it made its landing approach in bad weather at around 1200 GMT.
The difficult mountainous terrain and bad weather meant rescue teams could not reach the wrecked plane on Tuesday.
"The aircraft has been found on a steep ridge," Air Serv International said in a statement posted on its website.
"The aircraft was piloted by two crew members and carried 15 passengers. Aerial survey by helicopter indicates that there are no known survivors," it added.
The manifest said the flight was carrying aid workers from the Dutch branch of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, Handicap International, the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).
"The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the news ... His thoughts are with the families and colleagues of those United Nations and NGO aid workers, Congolese officials and crew who were on board the aircraft," a spokesman for U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
INACCESSIBLE BY ROAD
Two helicopters sent to the crash location were unable to land because of the difficult terrain, and soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) could not initially reach the site by land amid continuing bad weather.
Efforts to reach the wreckage will resume on Wednesday.
"They are hoping to drop a few peacekeepers from a sling from the side of a helicopter, but that will be tomorrow. The site is not accessible by road," U.N. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich told Reuters.
Air Serv is one of several entities and private contractors which service the large community of aid workers operating in Congo, a vast, mineral-rich former Belgian colony which is still suffering a humanitarian crisis triggered by a 1998-2003 war.
Most humanitarian organizations operating in the country restrict travel by their personnel on commercial flights because of local airlines' abysmal safety record and frequent crashes.
Despite the official end of the war five years ago, fighting between rebel and militia groups and the government army has persisted in the lawless eastern borderlands.
Experts say the war and resulting humanitarian catastrophe have killed 5.4 million people in Congo, mostly from hunger and disease linked to the conflict.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Mark Trevelyan)
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