UN peacekeepers hike to Congo plane crash site
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — U.N. peacekeepers and Congo security forces took off on foot Wednesday from a remote town in eastern Congo to try to reach the site where a humanitarian aid plane slammed into a jungle-covered ridge.
Three days after the crash, rescuers have still not been able to get near the wreckage, due to heavy fog, the remote jungle site and the lack of any place for helicopters to land. The plane, carrying 17 people, crashed deep into a forest late Monday.
Helicopters were able to take aerial photographs of the badly destroyed plane on Tuesday, but were unable to land, said Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Congo.
"It's a very difficult terrain. There are no roads. It's a jungle," said Dietrich.
A helicopter search team had to abort a flight early Wednesday due to heavy fog. Their plan, said Dietrich, was to lower a small crew onto the ridge so they could cut away the heavy undergrowth and create a landing site.
Another try is planned, but it was not clear when it could take place.
"When the weather clears up, the helicopters will try again to return to see if we can lower someone down on a rope so that they can cut away the trees and allow our helicopter to land," he said.
At the same time, a 40-man search team set off on foot early Wednesday, hoping to fight their way through the thick jungle to reach the wreckage.
The U.N. Department of Safety and Security released the plane's manifest on Wednesday. The 17 passengers onboard included Congolese, French, Indian and Canadian nationals who worked for various branches of the United Nations as well as for aid agencies.
U.S-based Air Serv International, which runs the twice-weekly aid delivery between the cities of Kisangani and Bukavu, said a helicopter survey over the ridge where the plane came to rest suggested all 17 people aboard had died.
Dietrich confirmed the photographs showed the plane had been destroyed.
But he added: "In life there is always hope. But from what we saw yesterday there was no sign of life. We're now in the third day. It would be very difficult for someone to have survived."
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