Missing Mozambique plane wreck found in Namibia, 33 dead

December 2, 2013

Windhoek (AFP) – Police on Saturday found the burned wreckage of a Mozambican Airlines plane the day after it went missing in northeastern Namibia, saying none of the 33 people aboard had survived.
The crash in the remote, swampy terrain of Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park killed victims from several countries, including a baby, and is one of the worst accidents on record in Mozambique’s civil aviation history.

“My team on the ground have found the wreckage. No survivors. The plane is totally burned,” Willie Bampton, a regional police coordinator in Namibia’s Kavango region, told AFP.

The Mozambican government confirmed the crash and said it would declare a period of national mourning for the victims — six crew members and 27 passengers, of whom 10 were Mozambican, nine Angolan, five Portuguese, one Portuguese-Brazilian, one French and one Chinese.

The plane, en route from Mozambique to Angola, went down in the deserted terrain of the Bwabwata park, where Namibia turns into a narrow strip of land sandwiched between Botswana and Angola.

Mozambican authorities confirmed it was a Brazil-manufactured Embraer 190 aircraft and said it was the newest plane in the airline’s fleet.

Embraer issued a statement confirming the crash and extending “its support to investigating authorities”.

Embraer and the airline have both sent teams to the scene. The investigation is being led by Namibia with help from civil aviation authorities from Mozambique, Angola, Brazil and the United States.

The airline, known in Portuguese as Linhas Aereas de Mocambique (LAM), said the plane was purchased brand new in late 2012 and had completed 2,905 flight hours when it crashed.

The airline’s chief executive, Marlene Manave, told a press conference the pilots were “experienced”.

“We do not have any information on the circumstances of the accident and we cannot speculate on possible causes as the investigators must be given the time and space to do their work,” Manave said, adding that the airline did not yet have any information on the plane’s black box.

She also said the victims included a Mozambican baby under two.

The company said it was providing counselling and legal advice to families in both Mozambique and Angola and had set up a hotline for those who needed information.

The European Union banned LAM and all air carriers certified in Mozambique from flying in its airspace in 2011, citing “significant safety deficiencies”.

But the concern was about Mozambique’s civil aviation authority, rather than the track record of the various airlines.

The MT 470 flight took off from Maputo at 0926 GMT Friday for the nearly four-hour journey to the Angolan capital Luanda. With about 100 seats, it was two-thirds empty.

Last contact with air traffic controllers was made at 1130 GMT over north Namibia during heavy rainfall.

The search for the plane was hampered both by the rough terrain and torrential rains pounding the area, the Namibian regional police coordinator told AFP.

“There are no proper roads, you have to go through the bush slowly and it’s making our job difficult,” he said.

Deadliest since 1986 presidential jet crash

The Bwabwata National Park, a 6,100-square-kilometre (2,355-square-mile) reserve, is a sparsely populated area covered by wetlands and dense forests.

Villagers who had heard explosions helped point police in the right direction.

Before the wreckage was found, relatives and friends of those on board gathered at Maputo airport, many frustrated at what they said was the lack of information.

“They told us it was a forced landing. I know it’s a crash,” said Luis Paolo, a friend of a Portuguese businessmen on the flight.

Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva published a condolence message to victims’ families.

The accident is the deadliest for Mozambique since a plane carrying then-president Samora Machel crashed in 1986 in South Africa en route home from an African leaders’ summit.

That crash, which claimed at least 34 lives, remains a mystery, but speculation has lingered that it was linked to tensions with the then-apartheid regime in South Africa.

Mozambique said it would set up a commission of enquiry to work with Namibian authorities on Friday’s crash and expected to make its preliminary results public within 30 days.