DOUALA, Cameroon - The wreckage of a Kenya Airways jetliner that crashed with 114 people aboard was found yesterday in a mangrove forest, an aviation official said, more than 40 hours after the plane disappeared outside Cameroon's commercial capital. There was no information on survivors.
The wreckage was found about six miles outside Douala, said Thomas Sobakam, chief of meteorology for the city's airport. He said there was no word yet on those on board or the condition of the jetliner, which lost contact with the radio tower 11 to 13 minutes after takeoff shortly past midnight Saturday.
He said local fishermen led searchers to the site. "It's close enough that we could have seen it from the airport - but apparently there was no smoke or fire," Sobakam said.
Cameroon rescue vehicles, including ambulances and fire trucks, rushed toward the scene of the crash yesterday with sirens blaring, but were finding it difficult to navigate the narrow roads through the swamp, journalists in the convoy said.
The search had focused on the thickly forested mountains near the town of Lolodorf, about 90 miles southeast of this coastal city and nearly a five-hour drive on poor roads. Sobakam said they had been led to believe that the plane had crashed in the vast and largely inaccessible forest because of an incorrect satellite signal, possibly from the crashing plane.
Heavy rains hampered the search in the fog-shrouded forest. At the same time, aviation authorities sent out a ground crew to investigate claims by fishermen living in the swampy mangroves near the Douala airport. Several reported hearing a loud sound at the time of the suspected crash.
The plane, which was bound for Nairobi, Kenya, carried 105 passengers and nine crew members from 27 countries. It took off an hour late due to a heavy rainstorm. The drenching rains may have camouflaged the smoldering wreck in the nighttime hours after the crash.
Among the passengers of the Boeing 737-800 was a Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent, Anthony Mitchell, who had been on assignment in the region. Mitchell was one of five Britons on a passenger list released by the airline.
Officials said it was too early to tell what caused the crash. "Whatever happened must have happened very fast, which is usually a sign of catastrophic structural failure," said Patrick Smith, a U.S.-based airline pilot and aviation commentator.