Work Continues at Plane Crash Site

DOUALA, Cameroon --

U.S. aviation experts conferred with their Kenyan and Cameroonian counterparts Wednesday in an international effort to determine what caused a Kenya Airways jet to crash into a central African swamp and kill all 114 aboard.

The Americans, from the National Transportation Safety Board, were meeting with the African experts in preparation for their contribution to the investigation, said Lonnie Kelley, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Cameroon. Experts from Boeing, which made the 737-800 that crashed Saturday, also were expected.

Evanson Mwaniki, Kenya Airways chairman, said the company was also bringing in British forensic and DNA specialists and equipment to help identify bodies. Bodies were being found in pieces and badly decomposed after more than 40 hours in the water, making the "identification process more complicated and time consuming," Mwaniki said.

Kenya Airways officials said Wednesday that the remains of 81 of those aboard had been recovered so far.

Kenya Airways chief Pilot James Ouma told a Nairobi news conference on Tuesday that the Kenyan crash investigators at the site now believe Flight 507 crashed about 30 seconds after takeoff. Officials in Cameroon had said earlier that they lost contact with the aircraft 11-13 minutes into flight. The investigation has just begun, and the discrepancy could not immediately be explained.

Kenyan officials also said Tuesday they would like the flight data recorder, which was discovered Monday, to be examined in Canada, but acknowledged the decision would be made by Cameroon. Officials in Cameroon refused to say whether there was any conflict with Kenya over the flight recorder or crash investigation.

Kenyan officials said Wednesday there was no tension between the two countries, and that they had confidence in the efforts of Cameroonians leading the recovery effort and investigation.

It took nearly two days to find the wreckage, most of it submerged in murky orange-brown water and concealed by a thick canopy of trees. For reasons that have yet to be explained, the plane stopped emitting signals after an initial distress call, slowing the search.

At the crash site, one team gathered personal effects and a second was dedicated to recovering human remains. The stench of death and spilled fuel permeated the air.

Xavier Clotaire Noa, a Cameroonian firefighter acting as foreman of the search, said the muddy hole where the plane fell was inundated with water.

"We tried to empty it a few times but the water keeps coming back in," he said Tuesday.

Flight 507, a six-month-old Boeing 737-800, had taken off an hour late because of storms. A source close to the airline's investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said Monday the early investigation focused on a theory the plane lost power in both engines, perhaps because of the storm, and did not have enough altitude to glide back to the airport.

Ouma, the Kenya Airways pilot, noted that the wreckage was found on the flight path and close to the airport. Procedures for losing all power in an aircraft call for the pilot to try to return to the airport along the same path. The plane also crashed nose-first, consistent with a plane stalling as a pilot desperately tried to coax it along the glide path.

Among the 105 passengers was Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent Anthony Mitchell, 39, who had been on assignment in the region. Nine crew members also were on board.

While air travel in Africa is notoriously perilous, Kenya Airways is considered one of Africa's safest airlines. The last crash of an international Kenya Airways flight was on Jan. 30, 2000, when Flight 431 was taking off from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on its way to Nairobi. Investigators blamed a faulty alarm and pilot error for that crash, which killed 169 people.

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On the Net:

http://www.kenya-airways.com


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