Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

At least nine survive airline crash

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 takeoff from Abidjan. At least nine survivors were pulled from the water, officials said.

The plane, an Airbus 310, took off at 9:08 p.m. (4:08 p.m. EST) and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just one minute later, according to George Dapre Yao, head of air traffic at Abidjan's Felix Houphouet-Boigny Airport.

Kenya Airways Flight 431 carried 167 adult passengers and two children, Yao said. Officials said the crash was under investigation and declined to speculate on why the plane went down.

Samuel Ogbada Adje, a Nigerian who survived the crash, said the plane started having problems as soon as it took off.

"It wasn't quite balanced, and the next thing we knew we were in the water," said Adje, wrapped in a blanket at an Abidjan port after being plucked from the water by rescuers. He managed to swim out of the wreckage, but said the rescue effort had been a disaster.

"If they had come sooner, a lot of us would have been saved. We waited two hours for people to rescue us," he said angrily before being pushed into an ambulance and driven away.

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi said there was an American on board but did not know whether he was among the survivors.

In Nairobi, Steve Clarke, technical director of Kenya Airways, said the plane took off in Nairobi but could not make a scheduled landing in Lagos, Nigeria, because of bad weather. The bad weather this time of year in West Africa is related to a phenomenon known as the harmattan _ sand blown south from the Sahara Desert and the Sahel.

The plane then landed in Abidjan to pick up passengers and was headed back to Nairobi, via Lagos, when it crashed.

Clarke, said most of the passengers were believed to be Nigerians. The route is popular among Nigerians heading to Dubai for duty-free shopping.

"The aircraft started its initial climb with no problem and then suddenly descended," Clarke said.

Six or seven survivors were found early today floating in the wreckage off Abidjan, said Raymond Kesse, an official with the Ivorian Red Cross. He said they were picked up by boats and taken to an area hospital.

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.

At least two more survivors were seen being brought ashore at a port a few miles from the crash scene. One woman, with a head wound, was brought in by the owner of a fishing boat.

"We were really lucky to find her," said Gerard Frere. "She was clutching onto debris."

He said the crash site, between 3 and 4 miles offshore, was a chaotic scene.

"We went out here and there, we had no light. We had to improvise," he said. "There are bodies floating everywhere, ripped off arms and lots of debris."

Witnesses said the plane never appeared to get sufficient altitude as it crossed over the airport's wall and headed out over the ocean, just a few hundred yards away.

"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.

Emergency officials _ firefighters, police officers, soldiers and divers _ were combing the beach Sunday night near the crash scene about 1 mile east of the airport, looking for survivors and corpses. Police boats cruised the Atlantic and a helicopter chattered noisily overhead, scanning the dark ocean with a bright searchlight.

Dozens of people, who live nearby or were praying in churches along the beach road, heard the jet 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.

An official at the airport's control tower said French military firefighters, who are stationed at a French military base next to the airport, had also been dispatched to the scene.

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 Airways, which has been operating since 1977, Clarke said.

The plane that crashed was manufactured in 1986 and was due to be replaced in two years.

_ Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.