By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa raised the death toll up from the three announced previously, making it Tanzania’s worst civil aviation accident in nearly seven decades, Worthy News established.
Flight PW494, operated by Tanzanian regional airline company Precision Air, hit the water during storms and heavy rain, police confirmed.
The two pilots initially survived and managed to speak to local officials from the cockpit, but the prime minister said they may have since died.
Local authorities announced earlier Sunday that 26 of the 43 people on the Precision Air flight from the coastal city of Dar es Salaam were rescued and taken to a hospital.
It was unclear if the new death toll included people who died at the hospital.
Footage showed the plane, which was headed to Bukoba Airport, mostly submerged in the lake. “We have managed to save quite a number of people,” Kagera province police commander William Mwampaghale told reporters.
“When the aircraft was about 100 meters (328 feet) midair, it encountered problems and bad weather. It was raining, and the plane plunged into the water,” he added.
Mwampaghale said the rescue efforts were continuing. Emergency workers reportedly used ropes to pull the ATR-42 aircraft closer to the shore, and some of the plane’s body was now above the water.
An investigation was expected into what eventually caused the crash of the ATR 42, a turboprop regional airliner produced by Franco-Italian manufacturer ATR in Toulouse, France.
Abdul Nuri was at the airport waiting for the return flight to Tanzania’s biggest city, Dar es Salaam when he saw the plane plunge into Africa’s largest lake. “We were really shocked. People panicked, and some started crying and shouting. At the arrivals gate, people panicked as well – most of them were waiting to welcome their relatives,” he told journalists.
He said he had spoken to the fishermen who were first on the scene.
They told him they managed to get into the plane to rescue people after a flight attendant opened the rear door after the plane had crashed.
This was the East African nation’s deadliest civilian air crash since 1955, when all 20 people on board East African Flight EC104 were killed after departing from Dar es Salaam for Nairobi.
The wreckage was found on May 22, 1955, on the southeast slope of Mawenzi, one of the two peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro at an elevation of 15200 feet (about 4.6 kilometers), according to the Aviation Safety Network.
Sunday’s accident was the first Precision Air crash with fatalities, though the airliner had incidents in previous years, showed records seen by Worthy News.
It was a setback for Tanzania, one of East Africa’s poorest economies, which is heavily dependent on tourism and has been trying to improve safe and straightforward flying.
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