No word on Cameroon jet crash survivors

Updated: 2007-05-06 08:57

A relative cries on hearing the news of the Kenya airways plane missing at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Saturday, May 5, 2007. [AP]
YAOUNDE, Cameroon - One Chinese has been confirmed aboard the deadly flight of Kenya Airways Saturday when it crashed in southern Cameroon earlier in the day.

The Chinese person, an employee with south China's Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies, was on business in Kenya, said a person in charge of the company's public relations department, who declined to be named.

The company has established contact with China's embassy to Kenya and sent people to the scene for the aftermath, said the source.

according to an earlier report, the Kenya Airways plane carried 115 people, of whom six are Chinese. The condition of the Chinese passengers is still unknown.

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., a leader in providing telecommunications networks, has set up eight headquarters and more than 100 branch offices in the world.

A Kenya Airways jet that took off during a midnight storm crashed early Saturday with 114 on board after sending out a distress signal over remote southern Cameroon, officials said. Nearby villagers reported hearing an explosion and seeing a flash of fire.

The jet bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, went down near the town of Lolodorf, about 90 miles southeast of the coastal city of Douala, where it had taken off after midnight, said Alex Bayeck, a regional communications officer.

There was no word on survivors, Bayeck said by telephone en route to the crash site. He said search planes were flying over the forested area where the airliner gave off a distress signal but no wreckage has been spotted.

Residents in the area, which has few roads and is dotted by small villages, reported hearing a "large boom" during the night, and some described a flash of fire that looked markedly different from lightning, Bayeck said.

In Lolodorf, close to a dozen ambulances stood ready and a handful of family members of passengers gathered in the city center. Some said they had traveled as far as 250 miles that day.

"I don't know what to do. I'm just terribly confused. My younger sister boarded this plane that is supposed to have crashed. I hope we can still find her alive," said Innocent Bonu, a lawyer from the southwestern town of Buea.

Jean Francois Villong, a local official who is coordinating the rescue effort, said the air search stopped with nightfall because helicopters could not operate effectively in the dark, but the ground search was continuing.

"It is very difficult because this area is very mountainous and heavily forested. And we suspect the plane may have fallen into a valley," Villong said.

He said helicopters will start searching again in the morning and additional rescue workers are expected to reinforce the effort. Much of Friday's searching was done by volunteers from local villages, Villong added.

Kenya Airways CEO Titus Naikuni held back on confirming the crash "until we see the plane - until then, it's missing," he said.

He said the distress call was issued automatically - "from a machine, not a pilot" - but said a crash is not the only reason a plane issues an automatic distress signal.

Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said the plane that crashed was equipped with an emergency transmitter that sends out an automatic locator signal "in the event of a rapid change in velocity."

Proulx told The Associated Press by telephone from Seattle that the transmitter would have been activated upon impact and can also be manually turned on by the plane's flight crew.

Naikuni said the plane, which was almost new, took off an hour late because of rain. Douala airport officials confirmed thunderstorms at the time of takeoff but said that was unlikely to have been the sole cause of the accident.

"There was a thunderstorm, but there were other planes that left after (the Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi) that had no problems," said Thomas Sobatam, head of weather observation at the airport.

Kenya's transport minister, Ali Chirau Makwere, said it was too early to determine what happened.

"We need to get information from the technical experts as to whether it was occasioned by the weather or pilot error or mechanical fault," he said in Nairobi. "We really don't know. It's too early to make any conclusions."


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