MORONI (Reuters) - An airliner with 150 people on board belonging to Yemeni state carrier Yemenia crashed into choppy seas as it came in to land on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros on Tuesday, officials said.
“The plane has crashed and we still don’t know exactly where. We think it’s in the area of Mitsamiouli. There were 150 passengers on board,” Comoros Vice-President Idi Nadhoim told Reuters from the airport at the main island’s capital Moroni.
A Paris Airport spokeswoman said a Yemenia flight left Paris on Monday morning before landing in Yemen and then taking off for Moroni.
Ibrahim Kassim, a representative from regional air security body ASECNA, said the plane had probably come down 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) from the coast, and civilian and military boats had been mobilised to start searching.
“We think the crash is somewhere along its landing approach,” Kassim told Reuters. “The weather is really not very favourable. The sea is very rough.”
ASECNA — the Agency for Aviation Security and Navigation in Africa and Madagascar — covers Francophone Africa.
The town of Mitsamiouli is on the main island Grande Comore.
“There is a crash, there is a crash in the sea,” said an unnamed official who answered the phone in the Yemenia office in Moroni. He declined further comment.
An airline official in Yemen declined to comment.
Interior Minister Hamid Bourhane told Reuters the army had sent small speedboats to an area between the village of Ntsaoueni and the airport.
“At the moment we don’t have any information about whether there are any survivors,” he told Reuters.
A medical worker in Mitsamiouli said he had been called in.
“They have just called me to come to the hospital. They said a plane had crashed,” he told Reuters.
A United Nations official at the airport, who declined to be named, said the control tower had received notification the plane was coming into land, and then lost contact with it.
Yemenia, which is 51 percent owned by the Yemeni government and 49 percent owned by the Saudi Arabian government, flies to Moroni, according to flight schedules on its Web site.
Yemenia’s fleet includes two Airbus 330-200s, four Airbus 310-300s and four Boeing 737-800s, according to the site.
The Comoros covers three small volcanic islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli, in the Mozambique channel, 300 km (190 miles) northwest of Madagascar and a similar distance east of the African mainland.
A hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the sea off the Comoros islands in 1996, killing 125 of 175 passengers and crew.
Reporting by Ahmed Ali Amir; Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Antananarivo; Pascal Lietout in Paris; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and David Clarke; Editing by Jon Hemming