Mohamed Olad Hassan | Mogadishu, Somalia
All 11 crew members on a cargo plane that was shot down by a missile during take-off were killed, officials said on Saturday.
The downing of the plane on Friday, after it had delivered equipment for Ugandan peacekeepers in Mogadishu, came at the end of a particularly violent week in the Somali capital. Dozens of people, most of them civilians, were killed in the fighting.
Ten of the crew died in Friday’s crash. Rescuers found one wounded crew member and took him to a Mogadishu hospital, but he later died, said Hussein Mohamed Mohamud, spokesperson for Somalia’s president.
All the crew members were either Ukrainian or Belarusian, Mohamud said on Saturday, adding their bodies will be flown back to their countries later in the day.
On Friday, Egi Azarian, acting head of Belarus-based Transaviaexport, confirmed that the company’s plane was shot down but would not give any details.
An airport worker, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, saw the attack on the Russian-built plane.
Another witness said he saw one of the plane’s wings fall into the Indian Ocean.
“Nobody knows what exactly has caused the crash. There are conflicting stories coming from eyewitnesses and we are investigating,” Mohamud told the Associated Press on Saturday.
Mogadishu International Airport manager Mohmed Ahmed Siyaad said that before the plane crashed the captain contacted the control tower and said one of the engines had caught fire.
Transaviaexport, based in Minsk, Belarus, operates only Ilyushin-76s, one of the largest cargo planes in the world. The aircraft requires a crew of six, is about 45m long and can carry 45 000kg of cargo.
Captain Paddy Ankunda, spokesperson for the Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia, said the plane had brought crew to work on a plane that suffered a mechanical failure earlier this month.
Another Belarusian plane was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and had to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu on March 9.
Mogadishu remained calm on Saturday following a truce between Ethiopian military officials who had come to bolster the government and elders of Mogadishu’s dominant clan, the Hawiye, that halted much of the daily violence when it took effect on Friday.
Government officials have said their offensive this week was focused on parts of the capital controlled by the Habr Gedir clan, a branch of the larger Hawiye clan.
The Habr Gedir clan is a major supporter of the more radical elements of Islamic courts that controlled the capital and southern Somalia for six months before Somali government troops, backed by Ethiopian forces, ousted them in December.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. The current administration has failed to assert control throughout the country, and the African Union deployed the small force of Ugandans to defend it. – Sapa-AP