KINSHASA (Reuters) - An airliner ploughed into dense forest as it tried to land during a rainstorm in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday, killing 127 people on board, the Congolese transport ministry said.
There were 51 survivors, a ministry statement said.
The chief executive of the airline involved in the crash told Reuters earlier that there had been 110 people on board the plane, of whom 53 had died and 57 survived.
But a spokesman for the transport ministry, Gudile Bualya, accused the airline of underestimating the number of passengers.
The accident at the international airport of Kisangani, a commercial centre and river port town in the east, is the latest in a string of disasters in the vast central African country which has saddled it with one of the worst air safety records in the world.
“The pilot tried to land but apparently they didn’t touch the runway,” Stavros Papaioannou, chief executive of Hewa Bora airline, told Reuters by telephone.
Hewa Bora is on a European Union list of airlines banned due to security concerns, as are all carriers certified in Congo.
It is the second fatal accident involving the airline in three years, after its DC-9 airliner ploughed into a suburb of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, killing 44, in 2008.
Earlier, government spokesman Lambert Mende said rescue services had pulled 40 survivors from the Boeing 727.
Jean-Paul Bongisa, a local reporter for Congolese state television at the scene of the crash, told Reuters the rescue was being hampered by difficulties in reaching the wreckage, some 200 metres (yards) from the runway in dense equatorial forest.
Congo is roughly the same size as Western Europe but rail and road links through its jungles are few, so air and river travel are usually the only viable options for long distance journeys.
In April, 32 people were killed when a U.N. plane crashed as it tried to land at the airport serving Congo’s capital Kinshasa. The operator of the plane was Georgian flag carrier Airzena Georgian Airways.
According to Hewa Bora’s website, the airline has two Boeing 727s, both configured as passenger planes with 137 economy seats and 12 business class seats. They fly purely within Congo.
Once the world’s best-selling airliner, the Boeing 727 first flew in 1963 and was designed for short- and medium-haul routes. The last aircraft was delivered in 1984.
Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg and David Lewis in Dakar; Tim Hepher in Paris; writing by Mark John; editing by Tim Cocks and Robert Woodward