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Authorities Probe Sudan Plane Crash


Sudanese authorities have begun an investigation into why a passenger aircraft burst into flames upon arrival at Khartoum's international airport late Tuesday. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, at least 29 people died in the crash, with 14 unaccounted for.

Authorities from Sudan's Civil Aviation Authority say 171 of the 214 passengers and crew members were able to escape from the burning aircraft. Others may have left the scene without checking in with authorities.

The plane, an Airbus A310, was arriving from the Jordanian capital Amman, via Damascus, Syria. The nationalities of those aboard have not been made available.

The plane burst into flames minutes after touching down at Khartoum's international airport. Survivors say the landing was rough and officials have said an engine exploded.

Sudan's Civil Aviation Authority has begun an investigation into the cause of the accident. Some officials blamed poor weather. Khartoum experienced a rainstorm with heavy winds around the time of the landing, as well as a sandstorm earlier in the afternoon. The plane was initially diverted to Port Sudan, on the Red Sea.

Sudan has been hit by several air crashes in the past. In May, the defense minister of the semi-autonomous region of southern Sudan was killed in a crash in the country's south, along with over 20 others, many also officials in the southern government.

In July 2003, 115 people died when a Sudan Airways plane crashed after taking off from Port Sudan.

Michael Wakabi, a Ugandan journalist who follows the region's air industry, said that there have been concerns with the age of some of the planes in Sudan Airways' fleet, but that the plane involved in Tuesday's accident had been acquired in the past three years.

"In terms of fleet age, this special aircraft was one of the newer acquisitions by Sudan airways," he said. "I would have been comfortable flying them."

He says that in Sudan, as in the rest of Africa, air safety conditions have improved considerably in recent years.

"I think Africa has seen a general improvement in air safety the past couple of years largely because of the influence of the European Union which has barred poorly maintained aircraft from flying into its area," said Wakabi. "But because of these measures, the registration and airlines that also intend to operate in the international arena have had to really improve their safety."

He says Sudan was plagued by a high number of plane crashes during the 1990s, but that most crashes in recent years have involved smaller planes from regional carriers that are required to follow fewer regulations.

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