Survivor recounts chaos, screams, panic in Sudan jet crash
KHARTOUM, Sudan - Abdel-Menem Hassanein remembers the jetliner landing, and then the chaos - the blast, flames at the front of the plane, screams and the sounds of passengers uttering their last prayers.
The 75-year-old soon realized: The flight attendant at the back of the plane where he and his wife sat could not open the exit door.
"Many things were happening at once . . . people rushed toward the only open door at the front," he said. He hurried there, pushed his wife out the open exit, and onto the emergency slide - past the flames - and then followed her.
The couple and more than 170 others escaped the inferno on the Sudan Airways flight Tuesday night that killed at least 30 people.
"If I didn't keep my cool, we both would have been finished," Hassanein yesterday by telephone from his home outside Khartoum.
The jet skidded off the runaway at Khartoum International Airport and rammed into lights used by pilots to navigate when landing in bad weather, sparking a fire on the aircraft's right side, said police spokesman Major General Mohammed Abdel Majid Al-Tayeb.
The blaze raged for hours, eventually splitting the plane in two, before firefighters put it out. A flight attendant was killed, 178 escaped, and six people remain unaccounted for, Sudan Airways said.
An investigation into the accident is underway. The airport has reopened.
Airbus said it was sending in specialists to help with the inquiry. It said the plane in the accident was 18 years old and had been operated by Sudan Airways since September. Because the plane was made by France-based Airbus, French officials are investigating.
The Airbus A310 is a twin-engine, widebody plane used by a number of carriers around the world. Typically configured with about 220 seats, it is a shorter version of the popular A300.
Sudan has a poor aviation safety record and has many small airlines that service Africa's largest country. Three years ago, the government said it planned to build a new airport outside of the city center by 2010. It remains in the planning phase.
In May, a plane crash in a remote area of southern Sudan killed 24 people, including key members of the southern Sudanese government. In 2003, a Sudan Airways traveling from Port Sudan to Khartoum crashed soon after takeoff, killing all 115 people aboard.
Tuesday's flight touched down as thunderstorms pounded the city, but reports differed on the weather's role in the accident.
The head of Sudanese police, Mohammad Najib, said bad weather "caused the plane to crash land, split into two and catch fire."
But Youssef Ibrahim, the Khartoum airport director, blamed the accident on technical problems, saying one of the engines blew up.
Because of the bad weather in Khartoum, the aircraft stopped at Port Sudan Airport along the Red Sea, refueling before heading to Khartoum. The flight originated in Amman, Jordan, and stopped in Damascus, Syria.
Hassanein, who was returning from Damascus after a family vacation, said bad weather delayed the flight by three hours.
When the jet landed, "everything was OK. Then all of a sudden, there was a loud sound, maybe an explosion, as if it hit something," he said. The plane came to a halt and veered to the right before he saw a fire on the right side of the plane. "It was panic. People were screaming, shouting God is great and uttering their last prayers," he said.