Cameroon finds Kenya plane, no word of survivors

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - The wreckage of a Kenya Airways plane that crashed with 114 people on board was found in a swamp a short distance from Cameroon’s Douala airport on Sunday, officials said, but there was no word of any survivors.

Kenya Airways Group Managing Director Titus Naikuni points to a Cameroon map as he gives an update on the company's Boeing 737-800 that went missing in Cameroon to President Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi May 6, 2007. Hi-tech helicopters and villagers on motorbikes combed thick tropical forest in southern Cameroon on Sunday for a Kenya Airways passenger plane which crashed after takeoff in the central African country, officials said. REUTERS/Presidential Press Service/Handout

The Boeing 737-800, carrying passengers from more than 20 countries, vanished on Saturday shortly after taking off from Douala for Nairobi in torrential rain.

The wreckage was found 20 km (12 miles) southeast of the airport along the plane’s flight path, Kenya Airways said.

“All I can say for now is that the wreckage of the plane has been located in the small village of Mbanga Pongo, in the Douala III subdivision. We are putting in place rescue measures,” Cameroon’s Minister of State for Territorial Administration Hamidou Yaya Marafa told a news conference.

“For now we cannot say whether there were any survivors or not. Access to the area is very difficult,” he said. “We are beginning a new painful phase. Our task will be more difficult now, the task of recovering the corpses.”

A search party located the wreckage, but a helicopter was unable to land in the mangrove swamp, Celeste Mandeng of Cameroon’s Civil Protection Service told Reuters.

“The mangrove area is a very tricky area, access is very difficult. I think they will use trekking and boats,” he said.

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It was more than 100 km (60 miles) from the zone where radar-equipped helicopters, ground search parties and villagers on motorbikes had spent much of the weekend combing thick tropical forest.

Kenya Airways Group Managing Director Titus Naikuni said in Nairobi that local fishermen had led rescuers to the crash site.

“We are told the aircraft was covered by a canopy of trees, and that was the delay in sighting the crash site,” he said.

Naikuni gave no details as to why the plane crashed.

Earlier, Cameroon’s state radio said it had been found over 100 km (60 miles) to the south, but quickly withdrew the report.

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Relatives of passengers turned up at airports and Kenya Airways offices in both countries seeking information, some weeping, others clutching radios or phones to their ears. In the Kenyan capital many joined prayer services for the missing.

“My son, my son, what will I do?” wailed Keziah Musimba Kadurenge, mother of missing flight attendant Cyprian Kadurenge.

“We have no information whether people are alive or dead. At least there is progress. We are still hopeful,” said Cyprian’s brother, Bernard.

Kenya, France and the United States assisted with the search and officials from plane manufacturer Boeing and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were due in Cameroon to help investigations, the airline said.

The six-month-old aircraft was carrying 105 passengers and nine crew, most of them African with others from China, India, Europe and elsewhere. The flight had originated in Ivory Coast.

Anthony Mitchell, a journalist working for the Associated Press in Nairobi, was among five Britons on board, according to Kenya Airways’ passenger manifest.

South African mobile phone operator MTN said its Cameroon subsidiary’s chief executive, company secretary, chief financial officer and her husband, and a network engineer were on board. Oil major Chevron said two of its employees were too.

Kenya Airways has three 737-800s and Naikuni said it had not decided whether to ground the others.

Additional reporting by Wangui Kanina and Bryson Hull in Nairobi, Andrew Quinn in Johannesburg, Alistair Thomson in Dakar