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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scavengers Now Searchers at Crash Site

KINSHASA, Zaire -- A horrible search was still underway Wednesday amid the rubble of the Somba Zikida marketplace, where the crash of a cargo plane Monday killed as many as 350 people. In this chaotic city, scavengers now were working almost as diligently as had rescuers during the first 24 hours.


Men with axes or long knives climbed atop the charred and twisted remains of the Russian-made Antonov-32 twin turboprop and hacked away in quest of scrap metal. They piled up wooden planks from the flattened market stalls and began the trek to their homes, along the way bartering for whatever other commodities that could be sold or put to use.


Someone looted jewelry from the body of Lillian Maludi Kingenge, 30, a hawker of onions who was buried Wednesday. "You can't stop people from taking things,'' said the dead woman's sister, Sepa Kingenge, 42.


This is the aftermath of one of the bloodiest air disasters ever. The plane crashed on takeoff from a central but secondary airport in the Zairean capital, leaving nearly 500 people injured along with the still-rising number of dead.


In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin said President Boris Yeltsin has sent his condolences to Zairean leaders in connection with the plane crash, which had been leased to a Zairean firm known as African Air by the Russian company Moscow Air.


The crash apparently involved the largest number of people killed on the ground in an aircraft accident, topping the 1992 crash of an El Al Boeing 747 freighter into apartment buildings in Amsterdam. A precise death toll was never determined in that crash, but it was estimated to be up to 200.


As Kinshasans mourned the dead here Wednesday, four Russian crew members were arrested, as were some Zairean aviation officials. The black-box flight recorder was recovered, and officials said it would help tell how one of the city's largest markets was devastated.


In a country beset by corruption in a region rife with diamond and arms smuggling, the flight's destination remained unknown.


Some aviation officials have speculated that the plane may have been overloaded. Its cargo was described Tuesday as engine oil and food. Whatever it was, scavengers no doubt made off with it.


The marketplace was like many other African markets: a labyrinth of stands jammed with people buying produce, meat and household goods.


"Everything we could buy there was cheap,'' Sepa Kingenge said. "That's why we went there.'' People often were afraid because of the air traffic just across the road at Ndolo Airport, she said. "But you can't think about those kinds of things. Everybody was there trying to make a livelihood.''