KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A Sudan Airways plane burst into flames after landing at Khartoum airport on Tuesday and 120 of the 217 passengers were killed, the head of the airport’s medical services said.
“There are 120 bodies and 97 survivors,” Major-General Mohamed Osman Mahjoub told Reuters. But other officials suggested the number of dead might be smaller.
Sudanese television showed film of the aircraft ablaze in the darkness while emergency workers played water hoses on the burning fuselage. The airliner, identified by the broadcaster as an Airbus, was carrying 203 passengers and 14 crew.
“The operation to recover bodies from the plane is going on now,” police deputy director general Al Adel Ajeb told Sudan Television. “It is a difficult operation because some bodies are completely burnt and there are body parts...”
One passenger said the plane, which had flown from Amman, had tried to land at Khartoum airport “but then the captain told us we couldn’t land because of bad weather”.
He said they then flew to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan before returning to Khartoum an hour later.
“When (the pilot) tried to land there was a crash,” the passenger told Sudan Television.
At the time of the landing a dust storm in the Sudanese capital was restricting visibility, residents said.
Another survivor, Al Haj Bashir, said the landing in Khartoum was “not normal” and described “an explosion in the right wing” two or three minutes after the plane landed.
Mabrouk Mubarak Salim, Minister of State for Transport, said there was an explosion in the right side of the engine. “So far we don’t have precise information but we think the weather is a main reason for what happened.”
Earlier, the spokesman for the Sudanese Ministry of Civil Aviation, Zuheir Hamadallah, told Reuters rescue teams had located nine bodies. Four of them were in the police hospital near the airport and five had been recovered from the plane.
“But the total number is probably more because the rescuers have only just started looking around inside the plane,” he said.
A mortuary near Khartoum airport has received 28 bodies. Youssef Mukhtar, a doctor who visited the mortuary in the early hours of Wednesday said: “they expect more.”
Another hospital official said the death toll of 120 may have arisen by counting the known survivors and assuming that all the others died in the fire. But some survivors dispersed in the chaos and left the airport area, officials said.
At its height, the fire, which was later put out, appeared to be consuming the fuselage and cockpit area. Television pictures showed emergency escape chutes deployed at the side of the blazing aircraft. Ambulances drove on to the tarmac.
The civil aviation spokesman said the pilot was slightly injured and all but one of the crew had been found alive.
“The task of counting the survivors has been complicated because in the alarm and confusion they dispersed and some of them seem to have left the airport area,” he added.
Airport director Yusuf Ibrahim told Sudanese television the cause of the fire was not yet clear.
“Whether it is a technical reason, we don’t know yet,” he said. “The plane was coming from Amman and Syria... it landed safely at Khartoum airport and they talked to the control tower which told them where to taxi. At this moment an explosion happened.”
Five years ago a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 crashed shortly after takeoff near Port Sudan, killing 104 passengers and the crew of 11.
Additional reporting by Diana Abdallah in London and Jonathan Wright in Cairo; editing by Dominic Evans and Ralph Boulton