GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo - A hand reached out from beneath the smoldering, crushed seat. Marybeth Mosier grabbed it and pulled, but she couldn't help the burning man trapped inside the wrecked jetliner.
Mosier crawled from the smoke-filled aircraft with her husband and 3-year-old son, reaching safety through a hole other passengers had smashed in the plane's side. Her 14-year-old daughter escaped by wriggling through another crack in the fuselage.
Most of the 79 passengers survived Tuesday when the DC-9 jet careered off the runway into a crowded market. But 40 people were killed and more than 110 were injured.
"He was burning, and I tried to pull him up," Mosier said in an interview at a hospital in Goma, recounting how she saw the man in flames struggling to escape as black smoke billowed through the cabin and screaming passengers rushed for any exit.
"There were so many people pushing," the 51-year-old native of Dodge Center, Minn., said yesterday. "I thought this man was so badly burned and I couldn't block the way, so I climbed over the tops of the seats," she said.
It is unclear if the man Mosier tried to help died.
The tales of death - and seemingly miraculous survival - underscore the dangers of air travel in Congo, which has had more fatal plane crashes than any other African nation since 1945, according to the Aviation Safety Network. The desperately poor country is also struggling to emerge from a 1998-2002 civil war.
The DC-9 crashed after failing to lift off in the eastern town of Goma, ramming through an airport fence and into rows of houses and shops selling sugar, avocados, flour, and fuel. Many of the buildings, made of wood or cement, were packed with people taking shelter from an earlier downpour.
It was unclear what caused the crash, but passengers and officials said the plane had been delayed briefly by rain, then apparently blew a tire and went out of control.
Both of the plane's black boxes have been recovered.
The wreckage was still smoking yesterday as UN peacekeepers, aid workers, and civilians went over the debris.
Julien Mpaluku, the region's governor, provided the casualty figures. Transport Minister Charles Mwando Nsimba said two of the 40 people who died were passengers and the rest of the victims had been on the ground.
Nsimba said the death toll could rise. "We have to take into account the fact that there are bodies still trapped under the rubble," he said.