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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Plane Crash Victims Buried as Zaire Mourns

Combined Reports


KINSHASA, Zaire -- Zaireans began burying their dead Wednesday as investigators hunted for clues in the crash of a cargo plane that slammed into a crowded market, killing more than 300 people.


Elusive President Mobutu Sese Seko, who rarely visits the capital, Kinshasa, spoke at a memorial Mass for the victims on the second day of national mourning.


"It's the heaviest price that we've ever had to pay in the history of Zaire,'' Mobutu told more than 1,000 mourners who attended the memorial Mass at the Centenarian Catholic Cathedral in downtown Kinshasa.


"In my capacity as leader of the nation I ask that all light be shed on the exact events and circumstances of this accident so that all those are held responsible, to prevent similar incidents,'' he said.


Victims of Monday's crash were being buried at the Mikonga Public Cemetery on Wednewday. The government said those who could not be identified would be cremated.


The latest government figures Wednesday said more than 300 people died in the crash, but a specific figure was not given. International relief group Doctors Without Borders estimated Wednesday that at least 350 people died -- well above the official toll.


The cause of Monday's midday crash was still not official, but preliminary reports indicated the Russian-built Antonov-32, owned by Moscow Air Lines and leased to a private Zairean firm called African Air, was flying without authorization and may have been overloaded.


The turboprop crashed seconds after takeoff from Kinshasa's Ndolo airport, skidded across a busy street and thundered through a crowded market.


Airport authorities said the plane was carrying engine oil, wheat flour and salted fish to Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebel group in Angola. A statement Wednesday from UNITA, however, said the plane "had nothing to do with us.''


Four Russian crew members survived and were in protective custody. A fifth crew member, the cockpit engineer, was still missing.


A special commission has convened to investigate the accident. Attorney General Mongulu Datangana said the aircraft's black box flight recorder was found and sent to France. Russian experts flew to Kinshasa Wednesday morning to join in the investigation, Interfax reported. ()