YAOUNDE, Cameroon - Five
Chinese passengers have been identified as a Kenyan Airways aircraft they were
traveling on went missing earlier Saturday morning, the Chinese Embassy in Cote
d'Ivoire confirmed on Saturday.
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]
Three of the five Chinese, two men and one woman, boarded the Boeing
737-800 in Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote d'Ivoire, where the aircraft
took off and was bound for Kenya's capital Nairobi via Cameroon's coastal city
of Douala, the embassy said.
The three were identified as Jiang Xuedong, a Chinese company employee based
in Cote d'Ivoire, Bian Jingzhong and Shi Weisha, a couple doing business in
Abidjan, the embassy said.
While the identities of the other two men, who boarded the flight KQ-507 in
Douala, had been already known. One victim was identified as Liu Sheng, an
employee from the Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd based in southern booming city of
Shenzhen. Another was Wu Changgen, a businessman from eastern China's
According to Kenya Airways, Africa's
second-largest carrier, the six-month-old passenger jet, with 114 people aboard,
left Douala at five minutes past midnight but failed to arrive in Nairobi at
6:15 a.m. (0315 GMT) as scheduled.
The last message from the aircraft was received by the Douala control tower
immediately after its take-off. A distress signal was picked up on the West
Coast of Africa.
The Kenyan authorities said they were doing everything possible to locate the
Cameroonian radio said earlier that the plane crashed near Niete, south along
the coast from Douala, but later reports suggested the crash had happened
further inland. It was not clear yet whether the 105 passengers, a crew of eight
and one engineer could survive.
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
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."