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7 survive airline crash into sea

A Kenya Airways jet with 179 aboard slams into the ocean off the Ivory Coast moments after takeoff.

A Kenya Airways jet carrying 169 passengers and 10 crew members crashed into the sea Sunday night, shortly after taking off from Abidjan, airport officials said. At least seven people survived.

The plane, an Airbus 310, took off at 9:08 p.m. (4:08 p.m. EST) and plunged into the Gulf of Guinea less than two minutes after taking off, according to George Dapre Yao, head of air traffic at Abidjan's Felix Houphouet-Boigny Airport.

Kenya Airways Flight 431, which was en route to Lagos, Nigeria, carried 167 adult passengers and two children, Yao said. Kenya Airways officials said the plane's final destination was Nairobi, Kenya.

At least six survivors were found early today floating in the wreckage off Abidjan and were being taken to an area hospital, said Raymond Kesse, an official with the Ivorian Red Cross.

Earlier, another survivor, a Frenchman, was brought to the same hospital with cuts and bruises.

"He was a good swimmer. That's how he managed to survive," said Dr. Tanoh Koutoua, who treated the man.

Witnesses said the plane never appeared to get sufficient altitude as it crossed over the airport's wall and headed out over the gulf.

"I saw it take off," said an itinerant trader who identified himself as Alogouleta. "After it went over the wall, it was still very low. Then it hit the water. I heard the sound two times," as the plane slammed into the ocean.

He said he heard no explosion, saw no flames and that the plane did not veer as it flew overhead.

Sunday night, emergency officials _ firefighters, police officers, soldiers and divers _ were searching the beach near the crash scene, but had found no other survivors. Searchers combing the water with bright searchlights said they saw corpses and wreckage floating at the scene of the crash, about a mile offshore, officials reported.

Dozens of people, who live nearby or were praying in churches along the beach road, heard the plane slam into the water.

A few jumped into the water, hoping to get to survivors, but were quickly driven back by the harsh surf that slams noisily into the white sand beach.

A few times late Sunday, cheers rippled through the crowds and people rushed to the water's edge after hearing reports that survivors had been found. Those reports turned out to be false.

Anne Yeze was worshiping at the Celestial Christian Church, a concrete-and-metal building just off the beach, when the plane crashed into the water nearby.

"We were praying and we heard a noise, like something hitting the water," she said. The parishioners rushed outside, but couldn't see the crash. They then called the airport.

Kenya Airways has a partnership with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Together, the two airlines operate four flights a week from London to Nairobi, via Amsterdam. Sunday's crash was the first such disaster for Kenya Airlines, which has been operating since 1977.

The weather was clear in Abidjan at the time of the crash.