Kenya Airways plane, carrying 114 people, crashes in Cameroon

The Baltimore Sun

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A Kenya Airways jet with 114 people aboard crashed early yesterday in a dense forest in the western Africa nation of Cameroon, government officials said, but efforts to reach the wreckage were hampered by heavy rainfall.

There was no information on survivors.

Airline officials said they lost contact with the Nairobi-bound Boeing 737-800 only 11 minutes after its midnight takeoff from Douala, Cameroon. Kenya Airway's Flight 507, which originated in the Ivory Coast, was carrying 105 passengers from 23 countries, including one American, airport officials said.

Anguished relatives gathered at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, sobbing and waiting for news. Police sealed off the airport after local journalists mobbed relatives.

Officials did not speculate on the cause of the crash, but some suggested that weather might have been a factor.

"We really don't know," said Titus Naikuni, chief executive of Kenya Airways. "It's too early to make any conclusions."

Cameroon aviation officials said they received a distress call from the plane several hours after the crash, but Kenya Airways officials said the signal appeared to be an automated beacon relayed by the plane's computers, not the pilot.

"The government will do everything to unearth what happened in order to prevent it from happening again," said Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua.

Among those believed on board was Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent Anthony Mitchell. "We hope for the best," said AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll.

Relatives at Nairobi's airport began wailing as news reports of the crash filtered in. Dozens of family members collapsed in the airport terminal.

One person at the airport said families had not been given any information. "I cannot talk now because there is no news," he said, declining to give his name.

Janet Mwema went to a crisis center Kenya Airways set up at a Nairobi hotel because she believed that her daughter, Vicky, a cabin crew member, might have been on the flight.

Kenya Airways officials said the plane was six months old.

African airlines rank among the worst worldwide for air safety, and deadly crashes remain tragically common because of the use of older aircraft, poor maintenance and weak government regulation.

Africa accounts for less than 5 percent of global air traffic but about one-quarter of accidents, according to industry figures.

The continent's record is so bad that last year the World Bank threatened to link development funding for African nations to their progress in improving aviation safety.

Kenya Airways, the biggest carrier in East Africa, is considered one of the continent's best. Since it was privatized in the 1990s, profits have hit record levels and the company has won numerous industry service awards. Last year, it expanded routes to the Middle East and Paris, and also purchased three new Boeing 777 aircraft. It is part-owned by the Dutch carrier KLM.

Kenya's Airways' last international accident was in January 2000, when Flight 431 crashed off the Ivory Coast en route to Nairobi, killing 169 passengers. Investigators blamed pilot error and faulty equipment. Ten passengers survived.

Edmund Sanders and Nicholas Soi write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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