MBANGA PONGO, Cameroon - Investigators focused yesterday on the possibility that a Kenya Airways jet lost power in both engines during a storm just after takeoff and was trying to glide back to the airport when it plunged into a mangrove swamp 12 miles from the runway.
All 114 people on board Flight 507 Saturday were killed, officials in this West African nation said after picking their way along a muddy path to the crash site, strewn with metal, bodies and shoes.
After being delayed an hour by storms, the Kenya-bound Boeing 737-800 sent a distress signal shortly after takeoff from Douala early Saturday, then lost contact 11 to 13 minutes later. It took searchers more than 40 hours to find the wreckage, most of it submerged in murky orange-brown water and concealed by a canopy of trees.
"The plane fell head first. Its nose was buried in the mangrove swamp," said Thomas Sobakam, chief of meteorology for the Douala airport. He said the jet disintegrated on impact.
No one survived, said Luc Ndjodo, a local official: "We assume that a large part of the plane is underwater. I saw only pieces."
A coast guard officer, Capt. Francis Ekosso, said late yesterday that one of the two flight recorders had been found, a development that could help investigators determine what happened to Flight 507. He did not know the device's condition or whether it was the data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder.
Officials said it was too early to tell what caused the crash, but investigators concentrated on the stormy weather as a possible contributor.
Experts were considering a theory that the jet's two engines flamed out because of the weather and that the craft did not have enough altitude to glide back to the airport, said an official close to the airline's investigation in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, the flight's destination. He agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The wreckage was found late Sunday along the plane's expected flight path.
Procedures for losing all power in an aircraft call for the pilot to try to return to the airport along the same path. A nose-dive crash is consistent with a plane stalling as a pilot desperately tries to coax the plane in.
Another official close to the investigation, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that experts were studying whether the storm caused the engines to fail and also whether a power failure caused the jet's radar to fail.
The jet was only six months old, said Titus Naikuni, chief executive of Kenya Airways, which is considered one of Africa's safest airlines. The Douala-Nairobi connection is commonly used as an intermediary flight to Europe and the Middle East. Many of the 105 passengers, who were from 27 nations, were booked to transfer to other flights in Nairobi.
Among the passengers was Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent Anthony Mitchell, 39, a Briton who had been on assignment in the region. Also aboard were nine crew members.
Debris was spread over an area roughly the size of a soccer field. Bernard Atebede, prefect of the town of Vouri, near the site, called it "a scene of horror."