At least 19 passengers were killed when a passenger plane from Tanzania crashed into Lake Victoria while trying to land in the lakeside town of Bukoba. Operator Precision Air reports that 24 of the 43 passengers were rescued alive.
The two pilots initially made it out alive and were able to communicate with local authorities from the cockpit, but the prime minister believes they may have passed away by now.
At the end of the runway at the Bukoba Airport, the plane fell close to the water. Some of the people who were still inside the jet may be rescued by rescuers wading into the water.
Abdul Nuri witnessed the plane crash into Africa’s largest lake while he was at the airport waiting for the return trip to Tanzania’s main city, Dar es Salaam.
“We were really shocked. People panicked and some started crying and shouting,” he told the BBC.
“At the arrivals gate people panicked as well – most of them were waiting to welcome their relatives.”
The initial responders who were fishers, he has spoken with them. They claimed that after the jet crashed, a flight attendant unlocked the rear door, allowing them to enter the wreckage and rescue passengers.
The catastrophe, which happened at 05:50 GMT/8:50 local, has the weather to thank for it.
Some of the ATR-42’s body is now above the water as emergency personnel used ropes to pull the plane even nearer to the beach.
The aircraft was almost entirely immersed in water following the crash, with only the brown and green tail fin still visible.
The weather had gotten worse just as the plane was ready to touch down, causing the pilot to change course, according to Richard Komba, a crash survivor, who spoke to the BBC.
“We were then informed that we would be landing shortly, but there was heavy turbulence. We later found ourselves in the lake,” Mr Komba said.
“Water then entered the plane and those sitting near the front were covered by it. I was in the back seat and most of us in the back of the plane struggled to get out.”
He claimed that while one member of the cabin crew was struggling to open the aircraft’s door, he was eventually able to free himself.
“When we got out, no boat was there – it took quite long to get rescued, but the boat that came was not so good, it was a canoe.”
The number of people trying to squeeze in the one craft, he claimed, had “scared” the survivors, but more rescue boats, he claimed, arrived minutes later.
The rescued passengers are in the hospital and are not gravely hurt, according to Tanzania’s Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, “but they are shocked and worried.”
Mr. Majaliwa had earlier visited the scene and promised a thorough inquiry to ascertain the full causes of the collision.
“We are still identifying the bodies, but it is highly likely that the pilots might have perished,” he said.
Airport operations have been suspended until further notice.
As the rescue effort goes on, President Samia Suluhu Hassan has sent her sympathies to the affected parties and urged restraint.
The route of the aircraft was via Mwanza, from Dar es Salaam to Bukoba.
Kenya Airways owns a portion of Precision Air, the largest privately owned airline in Tanzania. It began operations in 1993 and flies both domestically and regionally.