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Cablegate: Dc-9 Crash Update - 45 Confirmed Dead

VZCZCXRO3366
OO RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #0367/01 1121209
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 211209Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7908
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHJB/AMEMBASSY BUJUMBURA 0032
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KINSHASA 000367

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CASC EAIR PGOV ECON KPKO CG UN
SUBJECT: DC-9 CRASH UPDATE - 45 CONFIRMED DEAD

REF: A. Kinshasa 349 B. Kinshasa 363

Note: Following report was prepared by Embassy officer serving in
Goma, with additional reporting from Kinshasa EmbOffs:

1. Summary: Six days after the April 15 crash of a Hewa Bora
Airways DC-9 at Goma airport (ref A), and in the absence of an
official report, the toll of passenger and ground casualties stands
at 121, with 45 dead and about 76 injured. Company and civil
aviation officials say they have found the airplane's black box, and
are interviewing survivors before making a report. A lawyer for
Hewa Bora Airways is now in Goma but is not discussing his mission.
The cause of the crash remains unknown. End summary.

2. The American missionary family that survived the crash left the
city April 19 on a charter flight to Kisangani.
EmbOffs met with the family of a Congolese man listed on the
manifest who is still missing. Despite initial claims of American
citizenship, consular investigation and subsequent interviews with
the family have determined that he is/was an asylee or LPR and not
an Amcit.

3. MONUC personnel and municipal workers believe that most of the
human remains from the fuselage and the impacted houses are now
removed from the site and buried, or interned in morgues. There are
photos of the missing posted near the site and in hospitals.
Injured people remain in three Goma hospitals and two small clinics,
and two victims are hospitalized in Gisenyi, Rwanda.

4. At least two Kinshasa-based civil aviation officials are in Goma
to take possession of the DC-9's black box. They are also
interviewing the pilot, who survived the crash and saved the life of
his co-pilot by pulling her from a cockpit window with the help of
bystanders. She suffered psychological trauma and left the city.

5. Congolese Civil Aviation Authority (AAC) chief Richard Kasanza
confirmed April 21 that the flight data recorder (FDR) had been
recovered. He told us the ACC had turned it over to MONUC, which
planned to send it to the NTSB in Washington. He said the cockpit
voice recorder (CVR) had not been found, but that this was
inconsequential since the crew had survived and were being
interviewed. We are working to confirm the arrival of the FDR and
how long it will take for results to be known.

6. Several observers' versions of the accident boil down to a
sequence of mechanical failures, and possibly human error. Unable
to reach or maintain take-off velocity, the DC-9 rose slightly from
the ground, though its wheels might not have left the wet runway
when the pilot tried to abort the take-off. At this point a tire
ruptured and the pilot lost control of the aircraft. Its skid marks
begin in the grass a few meters from the end of the runway and
continue down a hill to the wrecked buildings at the edge of a
commercial area.

7. Kasanza cited the runway conditions (short, choppy, and wet) as
the main problem, but conceded that mechanical problems and human
error may have played a role as well. He stated that the blown tire
was a result of the attempt to stop the plane after takeoff was
aborted, not the cause of the crash itself, but that this may have
contributed to the pilots' inability to keep the DC-9 from leaving
the runway. (Note: Kasanza's agency does not oversee the Congolese
airport authority, RVA, which is responsible for the runway. End
note.)

8. Provincial officials and Hewa Bora employees are keeping a low
profile in the post-crash period. Oddly, bystanders booed some
MONUC soldiers and officers who returned to the crash site for two
days to reposition the wreckage and remove bodies. Governor Julien
Paluku declared a strict three-day mourning period beginning April
15, with big fines for any shops that failed to close, but it was
business as usual by the following morning.

9. Press and citizen commentary most often touches on the need for
much faster government action to make safe air transportation
available to isolated cities like Goma. But even without a single
change in airport or airplane security, flights had resumed
operation within two hours of the fatal crash on April 15.

10. Comment: Congolese authorities do not know what caused the
crash: mechanical failure, human error, poor runway conditions, or
some combination of all three. But the accident illustrates
weaknesses in all three "legs" of the Congolese aviation sector:
the planes/airlines themselves, the national airport authority, and
the civil aviation administration that oversees the whole system.
This is reflected in our decision to temporarily suspend USG

KINSHASA 00000367 002 OF 002


employee travel on locally-owned and -operated commercial airlines
(ref B). End comment.

GARVELINK

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