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Cablegate: Plane Crash Kills Dozens in Goma, Eastern Congo

VZCZCXRO8165
PP RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #0349 1061751
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 151751Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR PRIORITY 0216
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 1472
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7886
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR PRIORITY 0217
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 1473
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY

UNCLAS KINSHASA 000349

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PASS DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION
USAID FOR OFDA: MSHIRLEY and AFR/EA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CASC EAIR ECON PGOV
SUBJECT: PLANE CRASH KILLS DOZENS IN GOMA, EASTERN CONGO

REF: 07 KINSHASA 1183

1. (U) Summary. A Congolese airliner carrying 79 passengers and 5
crew members crashed on takeoff from Goma airport in eastern Congo
at 14:45 local time on April 15, killing dozens of people including
passengers and persons on the ground. The majority of passengers
appear to have survived, but exact numbers are unavailable. The
pilots apparently attempted to abort takeoff, possibly after a blown
tire, but continued off the runway and into a crowded neighborhood
near a market area. USG personnel in Goma have determined that four
U.S. citizens, all members of the same family, are among the
survivors and are being cared for in a local hospital. End summary.

2. (U) A U.S.-made DC-9, owned and operated by Congolese airline
Hewa Bora, en route to Kinshasa via Kisangani, crashed on takeoff
from Goma airport, eastern Congo, on Tuesday afternoon at 14:45,
killing dozens of persons, including people on the ground in the
Birere neighborhood next to the airport. Early eyewitness reports
indicate that the pilots attempted to abort the takeoff, possibly in
response to a blown tire, but were unable to prevent the plane from
leaving the runway, plowing into a densely populated area that
included a market, and bursting into flames. USG personnel in Goma,
there working on the Goma Peace Process, have determined that many,
perhaps most, of the passengers survived the crash. They report that
four U.S. citizens listed on the plane's manifest, all members of
the same family, survived the crash and are being cared for at the
Heal Africa hospital in Goma. The extent of their injuries is not
known at this time.

3. (U) Goma airport, on the east side of crowded Goma town, along
the DRC border with Rwanda, is the base for many U.N. Mission to the
DRC (MONUC) planes and helicopters, but few passenger carriers at
this time. Hewa Bora, which only recently began flying between
Kinshasa and Goma, was the only remaining commercial carrier since
the departure of Air Bravo and the grounding, reportedly for
mechanical reasons, of the U.S.-owned carrier CAA. The runway,
which runs north-south along the Rwandan border, is shorter now than
it was five years ago at the time of the Nyiragongo Volcano
eruption, which dumped lava at the north end of the runway,
shortening it and making it unusable for the large cargo aircraft
that used to land there. (Note: there was talk recently of an
initiative to remove the lava from the runway and return it to its
former length. End note.) Flights in and out of Goma, including
MONUC planes, helicopters, and dozens of cargo flights from the
interior, pass over heavily crowded portions of town before heading
out over Lake Kivu to the south and on to their destinations.

4. (SBU) Comment. Because of the humanitarian crisis and ongoing
conflict in eastern Congo's North Kivu province, Goma is the base of
operations for not only MONUC and many of its peacekeeping forces,
but also for dozens of UN and international organizations staffed by
Congolese and hundreds of expatriate personnel. While many
peacekeeping, humanitarian and development workers are able to fly
on MONUC aircraft (including well-maintained but infamous Antonov
planes, otherwise officially banned now in the DRC), businesspersons
and embassy personnel are normally forced to find seats on
commercial aircraft. This had become more difficult lately, despite
increased attention to the conflict and humanitarian needs of North
Kivu. This crash will certainly give pause to those used to flying
commercial aircraft in the DRC. End Comment.

GARVELINK

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