- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

KHARTOUM, (Reuters) - A Sudanese airliner burst into flames after landing in Khartoum overnight in bad weather, killing at least 28 of the 217 people on board, officials said on Wednesday.

Khartoum airport’s head of medical services, Major-General Mohamed Osman Mahjoub, said authorities had so far established there were 123 survivors but 66 people were unaccounted for. The plane’s emergency chutes enabled the survivors to escape.

Twenty-eight bodies had been taken to a nearby mortuary, said Mahjoub, adding that some of the 66 people unaccounted for might have survived and left the airport during the confusion after the plane fire broke out on Tuesday night.

The nationalities of the dead were not immediately known.

The Sudan Airways plane, identified by Sudanese television only as an Airbus without any model details, was carrying 203 passengers and 14 crew on a flight from Jordan’s capital Amman.

A dust storm and heavy rain had hit the airport on Tuesday, officials said.

Sudan’s Minister of State for Transport, Mabrouk Mubarak Salim, said there was an explosion in the airliner’s right wing engine area. “So far we don’t have precise information but we think the weather is a main reason for what happened,” he said.

Sudanese television showed emergency workers using hoses to spray water on the burning fuselage of the airliner.

“The operation to recover bodies from the plane is going on now,” police deputy director general Al Adel Ajeb said in a television interview. “It is a difficult operation because some bodies are completely burned and there are body parts.”

One passenger said the plane had tried to land at Khartoum airport “but then the captain told us we couldn’t land because of bad weather.”

He said the plane then flew to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan before returning to Khartoum an hour later.

“When (the pilot) tried to land there was a crash,” the passenger told Sudan Television.

Another survivor, Al Haj Bashir, said the landing in Khartoum was “not normal” and that there was “an explosion in the right wing” two or three minutes after the plane landed.

A mortuary near Khartoum airport said it had received 28 bodies. Youssef Mukhtar, a doctor who visited the mortuary early on Wednesday said: “They expect more.”

At its height the fire appeared to be consuming the fuselage and cockpit area. The emergency crews eventually managed to extinguish the blaze.

Television pictures showed emergency escape chutes at the side of the blazing aircraft and ambulances on the tarmac.

A spokesman for Sudan’s civil aviation authorities said all but one of the crew had been found alive.

“The task of counting the survivors has been complicated because in the alarm and confusion they dispersed and some of them seem to have left the airport area,” said the spokesman.

“Whether (the fire was due to) a technical reason we don’t know yet,” airport director Yusuf Ibrahim told Sudanese TV.

“The plane was coming from Amman and Syria … It landed safely at Khartoum airport and they talked to the control tower which told them where to taxi. At this moment an explosion happened,” he said.

Five years ago, a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 crashed shortly after takeoff near Port Sudan, killing 104 passengers and the crew of 11.

Additional reporting by Diana Abdallah in London and Jonathan Wright in Cairo.

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