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Cablegate: Plane Crashes Near Bukavu; No Sign of Survivors

VZCZCXRO3965
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #0725/01 2470727
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 030727Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8377
RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 0219
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 1477
INFO RUCNSAD/SADC COLLECTIVE
RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KINSHASA 000725

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON PGOV CG
SUBJECT: PLANE CRASHES NEAR BUKAVU; NO SIGN OF SURVIVORS

REF: KINSHASA 349
KINSHASA 367
KINSHASA 363

1. (SBU) Summary. An Air Serv International plane carrying
seventeen persons, including two pilots, crashed in heavy rain near
Bukavu on September 1. Rescue efforts remain underway, but there
are no signs of survivors. Several UN and aid workers were on
board, but no American citizens were listed on the flight manifest.
Initial reports indicate the crash was likely due to weather-related
conditions. The National Transportation Security Board (NTSB)
offered to send an investigator to assist with the crash
investigation, but the GDRC's Civil Aviation Authority (AAC) has
thus far declined. USG employees and contractors are already
prohibited from flying on domestically owned and operated airlines,
and Air Serv is one of the few remaining options for official USG
in-country travel. End Summary.

Crash Wreckage Found, All Seventeen Presumed Dead
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (U) A humanitarian plane carrying fifteen passengers and two
pilots crashed into a mountain near Bukavu in the South Kivu
province on September 1. The plane, operated by U.S.-based Air Serv
International, lost contact with ground control and went missing
just before landing in a severe rainstorm. The flight was scheduled
to land in Bukavu after leaving Kisangani in the Orientale province.
Rescue helicopter pilots spotted the wreckage on the slope of a
mountain eight miles northwest of Bukavu on September 2, but there
was no sign of survivors. The rescue helicopter was unable to land,
and a second, smaller helicopter was reportedly sent to the crash
site.

3. (SBU) The plane, a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900 with two South
African pilots, was carrying nine passengers from the UN Development
Program (including one Canadian citizen), two from the UN Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, three from Handicap
International, and one from Doctors without Borders. There were no
American citizens reported to be onboard.

GDRC Civil Aviation Declines Help from NTSB
-------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) An investigator from the National Transportation Safety
Board (NTSB) will be traveling to Kenya on September 3, and told
EconOff that he would be available to assist the AAC during any
crash investigations. The NTSB investigator, who has a close
working relationship with the GDRC's Civil Aviation Authority (AAC),
assisted the GDRC following the Hewa Bora crash on April 15. (Refs
A and B)

5. (SBU) EconOff relayed the offer to the AAC Director, Fortunat
Richard Nyanguile, on September 2. The Director was reluctant to
accept any offer of assistance at this time because the plane was
registered in South Africa instead of the DRC, implying there would
be no follow-on investigation. The Director also said the crash was
weather-related and not due to any technical failure. (Comment:
While the crash may indeed have been strictly weather-related, it is
too early to rule out any technical problems. Although AAC has
accepted NTSB assistance in the past, Nyanguile seemed to be
positioning for a hands-off approach for the aftermath of this
latest crash. End Comment.)

Dwindling Options for USG Travel
--------------------------------

6. (SBU) Air Serv International is a not-for-profit aviation
organization based in Warrenton, Virginia that supports the large
community of aid workers, UN/MONUC representatives, and members of
the diplomatic corps in the DRC. Following the April 15 Hewa Bora
crash, Post's Emergency Action Committee prohibited USG employees
and contractors from traveling on domestically owned and operated
airlines. (Ref C) Air Serv, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), and
MONUC flights have since been the only options available for
official USG in-country travel. An Air Serv representative told
EconOff on September 2 that all future Air Serv flights will
continue as scheduled, but even a temporary grounding of some
flights will exacerbate an already severe shortage of transportation
options.


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