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120 Feared Dead in DRC Plane Accident - 2003-05-09

Military officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say at least 120 people are feared dead, after a bizarre airplane accident, in which the plane's rear cargo door opened.

Military officials in Kinshasa say they fear most of the passengers were sucked out of the Russian-made airplane, when the rear cargo door accidentally opened in mid-flight.

Airport sources tell Western news agencies, it appears only the crew of the plane survived.

The plane, an Ilyushin-76, was flying at an altitude of about 2,200 meters, en route from Kinshasa to the southern city of Lubumbashi. Reports indicate something went wrong with the hydraulic system controlling the plane's massive rear cargo door. The cargo ramp opened about 45 minutes after takeoff.

The crew was able to turn the plane around after the accident and land at the Kinshasa airport.

It is still not clear how many people were on the chartered flight. Officials say they think the passengers were mostly soldiers and their families.

The accident happened late Thursday, but military officials did not announce it until after the victims relatives were informed.

Air crashes are not uncommon in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are few passable roads connecting different parts of the massive country, so air travel is a major mode of transportation. But many of the planes are old and poorly maintained.