Southern Sudan's defence minister among those killed in major plane crash

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Southern Sudan Air Connection aircraft has crashed today in Southern Sudan, killing over a dozen people, including the area's defence minister.

Location map of Africa, Southern Sudan highlighted
Image: Vardion, Mandavi.
This Air Labrador 1900 is comparable to the aircraft involved.

There are conflicting reports on how many people were on board and how many died in the Bahr Gazal crash, but at least twenty people were on board. Some sources suggest nineteen fatalities and two survivors, and others say there were 26 deaths and no survivors; it should be noted that if either of these were correct then there were more than twenty on board. Lieutenant General Dominic Dim Deng, the area's defence minister, is confirmed to be dead and it is thought at least 19 military officials are now deceased.

"The plane had been rented from a charter company and was carrying a delegation of leaders from the (former rebel) Sudan People's Liberation Movement from Wau to the capital Juba," said Luka Mariak, spokesman for the Souther Sudan president Salva Kiir. This makes the journey around 450 kilometres (290 miles), with the plane crashing in a flat region 375 kilometres (around 220 miles) from Juba. It is reported it subsequently caught fire.

The United Nations said that the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) had dispatched a helicopter to assist the emergency response effort. The UN also said that the aircraft was a Beechcraft 1900 and that they would fly in government officials and aviation experts to conduct an investigation. The site has been cordoned off.

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, UNMIS's Secretary-General's Special Representative, offered his condolences to the government on behalf of both UNMIS and th UN as a whole.

Kiir said in a press conference "Twenty-one passengers were killed and either two or three crew members. Two engines failed and there was nothing the pilot could do."

Justin Yak and his wife are also confirmed to be dead. Yak was the minister for cabinet affairs until a 2007 reshuffle left him removed from office. He was an adviser to the president at the time of his death. Bodies were flown into Juba Airport were relatives waited for hours for news. UNMIS is expected to fly the bodies on to their nearby airfield, to which there is no public access.

The disaster is thought to be an accident caused by mechanical trouble. The pilot had contacted Air Traffic Control (ATC) to report engine problems and requested permission to conduct an emergency landing at nearby Rumbek. ATC lost contact minutes later.