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More Than 120 Sucked Out of Cargo Plane

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More Than 120 Sucked Out of Cargo Plane

53 minutes ago

By EDDY ISANGO, Associated Press Writer

KINSHASA, Congo - More than 120 people were sucked out the rear door of a Russian-built cargo jet that burst open as the aircraft was carrying soldiers, police officials and their relatives across Congo, airport officials said Friday.

Survivors clung to the insides of the plane as tumbling baggage struck their heads and bodies, injuring some of them.

Kikaya Bin Karubi, a Congolese government spokesman, said seven people had been confirmed killed after being "ejected from the plane" at an altitude of 33,000 feet near the southern city of Mbuji-Mayi. Military helicopters were searching the area for signs of further casualties, he added.

Two officials at the international airport in the central African country's capital, Kinshasa, independently told The Associated Press that 129 people were feared dead. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

After the accident occurred some 45 minutes into the flight, the pilots managed to turn back and land the plane in Kinshasa, Defense Minister Irung Awan said.

The plane carried police as well as soldiers from a presidential guard unit — and their families, he said.

Nine survivors were being treated for minor injuries and psychological trauma at Kinshasa General Hospital before being released Friday, said Kabamba Mbwebwe, chief doctor at the hospital's emergency ward.

"They were traumatized and spoke of their baggage flying everywhere," Mbwebwe told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"The door opened and the plane depressurized. Many were sucked out," he cited survivors as telling him, stressing, however, that they "weren't able to give an exact number."

Mbwebwe said survivors told of hanging desperately to the planes' insides while luggage swirled about, battering them. Many suffered head injuries from the baggage, he said.

People in Africa often travel on modified cargo planes that have few seats, leaving most passengers to cram in among their belongings in the rear of the aircraft.

The plane, a privately owned Ilyushin 76, apparently had been chartered to transport Congolese police and their families from Kinshasa to the southeastern city of Lubumbashi, a diamond center in one of Africa's biggest countries.

It was not immediately known why the door came open. Weather conditions during the flight were believed to have been normal.

The plane's owner was not immediately known. The aircraft, emblazoned with "Ukrainian Cargo Airlines" on its fuselage, sat on a runway at Kinshasa's airport Friday with its rear cargo door missing.

The IL76 is a medium- to long-range transport jet. The model was first flown in 1971. It is widely used around the world, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as a civilian freighter.

The plane has had a checkered safety record, including 47 accidents that resulted in 668 deaths, according to the Aviation Safety Network Web site, an air safety data base.

On Feb. 19, an IL76 crashed in bad weather in Iran, killing 275 people, including more that 200 elite Iranian soldiers. A month earlier, another of the jets crashed while landing in thick fog in East Timor, killing all six people on board.

Kinshasa residents still have painful memories of a plane disaster on Jan. 6, 1996 that left as many as 1,000 people killed when a Russian-built Antonov crashed into a crowded market at the end of a runway near a Kinshasa airport.

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