YAOUNDE, Cameroon - A Kenya Airways 737 jetliner that took off during a midnight storm crashed early yesterday with 114 on board after sending out a distress signal over remote southern Cameroon, officials said. Villagers reported hearing an explosion and seeing a flash of fire.
The jet bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, went down near the town of Lolodorf, about 90 miles southeast of the coastal city of Douala, where it had taken off after midnight, said Alex Bayeck, a regional communications officer.
There was no word on survivors, Bayeck said by telephone en route to the crash site. He said search planes were flying over the forested area where the airliner gave off a distress signal but no wreckage had been spotted.
Residents in the area, which has few roads and is dotted by small villages, reported hearing a "large boom" during the night, and some described a flash of fire that looked markedly different from lightning, Bayeck said.
In Lolodorf, close to a dozen ambulances stood ready and a handful of family members of passengers gathered in the city center. Some said they had traveled as far as 250 miles that day.
"I don't know what to do. I'm just terribly confused. My younger sister boarded this plane that is supposed to have crashed. I hope we can still find her alive," said Innocent Bonu, a lawyer from the southwestern town of Buea.
Jean Francois Villong, a local official coordinating the rescue effort, said the air search stopped with nightfall because helicopters could not operate effectively in the dark, but the ground search was continuing.
He said helicopters would start searching again in the morning and additional rescue workers were expected to reinforce the effort. Much of Friday's searching was done by volunteers from local villages, Villong added.
The flight departed Douala at 12:05 a.m. and was to arrive in Nairobi at 6:15 a.m. The flight originated in Ivory Coast but stopped in Cameroon to pick up more passengers, the airline said.