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Plane crashes in Cameroon forest with 114 aboard

Times Staff Writers

A Kenya Airways jet with 114 people aboard crashed early Saturday in a dense forest in the West African nation of Cameroon, government officials said, and efforts to reach the wreckage were hampered by heavy rainfall.

There was no information on survivors.

Airline officials said they lost contact with the Boeing 737-800, bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, 11 minutes after its midnight takeoff from Douala, Cameroon. Kenya Airways Flight 507, which originated in Ivory Coast, was carrying 105 passengers from 23 countries, including one American, and nine crew members, airport officials said.

Anguished relatives gathered at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, sobbing and waiting for news. Police sealed off the airport after journalists mobbed relatives.

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Officials did not speculate on the cause of the crash, but some suggested that weather may have been a factor.

“We really don’t know,” said Titus Naikuni, chief executive of Kenya Airways. “It’s too early to make any conclusions.”

Cameroon aviation officials said they received a distress call from the plane several hours after the crash, but Kenya Airways officials said the signal appeared to be an automated beacon relayed by the plane’s computers, not the pilot.

“The government will do everything to unearth what happened in order to prevent it from happening again,” Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said.

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Among those believed on board was Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent Anthony Mitchell. “We hope for the best,” AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said.

Kenya Airways officials said the plane was only 6 months old.

African airlines rank among the worst worldwide for air safety, and deadly crashes remain tragically common because of the use of older aircraft, poor maintenance and weak government regulations.

Africa accounts for less than 5% of global air traffic, but about one-fourth of accidents, according to industry figures.

The continent’s record is so bad that last year the World Bank threatened to link development funding for African nations to their progress in improving aviation safety.

Kenya Airways, East Africa’s biggest carrier, is considered one of the continent’s best. Since it was privatized in the 1990s, profits have reached record levels and the company has won numerous industry service awards. Last year, it expanded routes to the Middle East and Paris, and also purchased three new Boeing 777 aircraft. It is owned in part by the Dutch carrier KLM.

Kenya Airways’ last international accident was in January 2000, when Flight 431 crashed off the Ivory Coast en route to Lagos, Nigeria, killing 169 people. Investigators blamed pilot error and faulty equipment. Ten passengers survived.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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Sanders reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Soi reported from Nairobi.


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