KHARTOUM, Sudan - A Sudan Airways jet carrying 214 people veered off the runway in a thunderstorm and burst into flames yesterday, killing dozens. Officials said more than 100 people fled the plane before it was engulfed.
An AP reporter at the scene said the Airbus A310 appeared to have left the runway after landing at Khartoum International Airport, and several explosions sounded as fire raced through the craft.
The roaring blaze dwarfed the Airbus' shattered fuselage as firefighters sprayed water with little apparent effect, Sudanese TV footage showed.
The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that 103 passengers and all 11 crew members survived. In addition, it said, some other passengers may have gone home directly after the crew helped them through the emergency doors. Officials said most people aboard were Sudanese.
Death-toll reports conflicted. State TV initially said about 100 were killed, but officials later put the toll at dozens without being more precise. Deputy parliament speaker Mohammed al-Hassan al-Ameen said "about 30 people" died, while police spokesman Mohammed Abdel Majid al-Tayeb said 23 bodies were taken to the morgue.
"There are missing passengers who could be still inside the plane, or left the aircraft but did not inform officials," Tayeb said.
A survivor speaking at the airport to Sudanese TV said the landing was "rough" and said there was a sharp impact several minutes later.
"The right wing was on fire," said the passenger, who did not give his name. He said that smoke got into the cockpit and that some people started opening the emergency exits. Soon, he said, fire engulfed the plane.
The cause of the accident, which happened about 9 p.m., was not immediately known, and reports differed on the role weather played.
A sandstorm had hit the area with 20 m.p.h. winds between 2 and 3 p.m., and there was a thunderstorm and similar winds at the time of the crash, said Elaine Yang, a meterologist with the San Francisco-based Weather Underground, a private weather service.
The Sudanese ambassador to Washington, John Ukec Lueth Ukec, called the weather "very bad" and said the runway had been drenched by rain.
The head of Sudanese police, Mohammad Najib, said bad weather "caused the plane to crash-land, split into two and catch fire."
But Youssef Ibrahim, director of the Khartoum airport, disputed that bad weather caused the crash. He told Sudanese TV that the plane "landed safely" and that the pilot was talking to the control tower and getting further instructions when the accident occurred. He blamed technical problems for the accident but did not elaborate.