KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A Sudanese airliner coming from Amman and Damascus burst into flames after landing in Khartoum on Tuesday night, killing at least 30 of the 214 people on board, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday.
At least 178 passengers and crew escaped the burning Sudan Airways plane and survived, while six others were still missing, the airline’s general manager Abdullah Idris told journalists late on Wednesday.
Idris appealed for the six missing to get in touch, saying he hoped they had left the airport in the confusion after the blaze and had gone straight home without informing authorities.
The general manager refused to answer journalists’ questions about the cause of the accident saying they were “premature” but confirmed that all the passengers had been Sudanese, apart from two Iraqis who were among the survivors.
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir led hundreds of mourners at a public funeral for the 30 dead on Wednesday afternoon in Khartoum’s El Sahafa cemetery.
The civil aviation authorities said all but one of the crew had been found alive.
“Whether (the fire was due to) a technical reason we don’t know yet,” airport director Yusuf Ibrahim told Sudanese TV.
“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,” he said.
Sudan’s aviation authority said a 12-strong team was investigating the cause of the fire. Sudan Airways staff said local investigators had already found the “black box” flight data recorder of the Airbus A310.
Airbus said it was sending a team of five experts from its Toulouse headquarters to Sudan and pledged to help the Sudanese authorities in the investigation.
Sudan’s Minister of State for Transport Mabrouk Mubarak Salim said there was an explosion in the airliner’s right wing engine area. “So far we don’t have precise information but we think the weather is a main reason for what happened,” he said.
A dust storm and heavy rain hit the airport on Tuesday and the plane was initially diverted to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Sudanese television showed emergency workers using hoses to spray water on the burning fuselage. On Wednesday, a spark triggered a fresh explosion that injured several workers as they were cutting into the charred plane.
One passenger said the plane had tried to land at Khartoum airport “but then the captain told us we couldn’t land because of bad weather”.
He said the plane 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.
Another survivor, Al Haj Bashir, said there was “an explosion in the right wing” two or three minutes after the plane landed.
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 Matthew Tostevin