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Death toll from Congo plane crash rises to at least 50; transport minister fired
Onlookers stand around the wreckage of a cargo plane that crashed Thursday into a residential neighborhood, in Kinshasa, Congo Friday, Oct. 5, 2007. The death toll from the plane crash in Congo's capital rose to 39 on Friday, including a child who died in the early morning from burns received in the fire that engulfed a block of homes hit by the plane. - photo by Associated Press
    KINSHASA, Congo — Congo fired its transport minister Friday as emergency workers extinguished the last flames from a plane crash in the capital and found still more bodies in the wreckage. The death toll climbed to at least 50, officials said.
    Saleh Kinyongo, spokesman for Congo’s humanitarian affairs ministry, said 28 bodies had been retrieved so far, all of them residents of the neighborhood where the plane crashed. Twenty-two passengers on the flight were presumed dead, he said.
    The cargo plane slammed into three houses Thursday just after taking off from Kinshasa’s international airport on a flight to central Congo. Six homes were destroyed in either the crash or the conflagration that burned until early Friday, the humanitarian affairs ministry said.
    The crash was the latest in a series of deadly transport accidents in recent months including a number of plane crashes and a train derailment that killed about 100 people.
    A government spokesman announced the firing of Transport Minister Remy Kuseyo’s on state television, but did not say if Kuseyo was accused of wrongdoing or negligence.
    Kuseyo had said that the plane should have been kept from taking off from N’Djili Airport by a three-week old ban put on Antonov model planes following recent crashes. He argued Friday that his dismissal was unjust.
    ‘‘Measures had been taken. I had taken measures, but I am not the one who was to have put the measures in place on the ground,’’ Kuseyo told The Associated Press.
    The crash Thursday underscored the dangers of flying in Congo, which has experienced more fatal air crashes than any other African country since 1945, according to the Aviation Safety Network. The turboprop belonged to the Congolese company, Africa One, which had been barred from flying in the European Union because of safety concerns.
    It was not immediately known what caused the Antonov 26 piloted by a Russian crew to go down Thursday. One of the plane’s propellers broke off during takeoff, and one of its wings was sheared off as it hit a bank of trees, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
    Police reports show people aboard survived the crash — a mechanic and a flight attendant who was in critical condition — said U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux.
    Civil aviation chief Alphonse Ilunga said the plane’s flight manifest indicated 16 people aboard, but an unknown number of others boarded before takeoff — a common occurrence in Congo.
    Cargo planes in Congo are often flown by experienced pilots from former Soviet states, but the aircraft are often old and poorly maintained. Most of the accidents have been blamed on lax safety regulations and overloaded aircraft.
    One of the worst air accidents in Congo’s history occurred in 1996, when an Antonov 32 turboprop crashed seconds after takeoff from Kinshasa’s airport, plowing into a crowded open-air market and killing about 300 people.
    An Associated Press survey of air accidents in Congo from 1996 until Thursday found 20 fatal crashes.

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