Algerian military plane crashes, killing at 257 people on board

Defence ministry says the cause of the crash was unclear, and an investigation has been opened

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 10:38pm

A military plane carrying soldiers and their families crashed soon after take-off in northern Algeria on Wednesday, killing 257 people in what appeared to be the worst plane crash in the North African nation’s history.

Algeria’s defence Ministry said that those killed included 247 passengers and 10 crew members, and the cause of the crash was unclear, but an investigation had been opened.

The ministry said that most of the victims were soldiers and their relatives and that the victims’ bodies were transported to the Algerian army’s central hospital in the town of Ain Naadja for identification.

The flight had just taken off from Boufarik airport, about 30km (20 miles) southwest of the capital Algiers, for a military base in Bechar in southwest Algeria, an area on the border with Western Sahara, according to Farouk Achour, chief spokesman for the civil protection services.

But it crashed just on the airport’s perimeter, officials said, adding that there were no residents in the area.

Emergency services quickly converged on the crash site. Footage from the scene showed thick black smoke coming off the field, as well as ambulances and Red Crescent vehicles arriving.

The aircraft was expected to first make a layover in Tindouf in southern Algeria, home to many refugees from the neighbouring Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco.

A member of Algeria’s ruling FLN party told the private Ennahar TV station the dead included 26 members of Polisario, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of Western Sahara.

UN attempts to broker a settlement have failed for years in the vast desert area, which has contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left. Morocco claimed the territory while Polisario established its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic there.

Algeria’s defence ministry issued a statement expressing condolences to families of the victims.

The Soviet-designed Il-76 military transport plane has been in production since 1970s and has an overall good safety record. It is widely used for both commercial freight and military transport. The Algerian military operates several of the planes.

It was the first crash of an Algerian military plane since February 2014, when a US-built C-130 Hercules turboprop slammed into a mountain, killing at least 76 people and leaving just one survivor.

In 2003, 10 people died when an Algerian Air Force C-130 crashed after an engine caught fire soon after it took off from the airbase near Boufarik, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s database.

The previous deadliest crash on Algerian soil occurred in 2003, when 102 people were killed after a civilian airliner crashed at the end of the runway in Tamanrasset. There was a single survivor in that crash.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse