MBANGA-PONGO, Cameroon - Investigators focused Monday on the possibility a Kenya Airways jetliner lost power in both engines during a storm just after takeoff and was trying to glide back to the airport when it plunged into a mangrove swamp 12 miles from the runway.
All 114 people on board were killed in the crash, officials in this West African nation said after picking their way along a muddy path to the site strewn with pieces of metal, bodies and shoes.
After being delayed an hour by storms, the Kenya-bound Boeing 737-800 sent a distress signal shortly after takeoff from Douala early Saturday, then lost contact 11 to 13 minutes later. It took searchers more than 40 hours to find the wreckage, most of it submerged in murky orange-brown water and concealed by a canopy of trees.
"The plane fell head first. Its nose was buried in the mangrove swamp," said Thomas Sobakam, chief of meteorology for the Douala airport. He said the jet disintegrated on impact.
There were no survivors, said Luc Ndjodo, a local official. "We assume that a large part of the plane is under water. I saw only pieces.
A coast guard officer, Capt. Francis Ekosso, said late Monday that one of the two flight recorders had been found, a development that could help investigators determine what happened to Flight 507. He did not know the device's condition or whether it was the data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder.
Officials said it was too early to tell what caused the crash, but investigators concentrated on the stormy weather as a possible contributor.
Experts were considering a theory the jet's two engines flamed out because of the weather and the craft did not have enough altitude to glide back to the airport, said an official close to the airline's investigation in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. He agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The wreckage was found late Sunday along the plane's expected flight path. Procedures for losing all power in an aircraft call for the pilot to try to return to the airport along the same path. A nosedive crash is consistent with a plane stalling as a pilot desperately tries to coax the aircraft in. Another official close to the investigation, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that experts were studying whether the storm caused the engines to fail and also if a power failure caused the airliner's radar to fail. The plane was only six months old, said Titus Naikuni, chief executive of Kenya Airways, which is considered one of Africa's safest airlines. The Douala-Nairobi is commonly used as an intermediary flight to Europe and the Middle East. Many of the passengers, who were from 27 nations, were booked to transfer to other flights in Nairobi. Among the 105 passengers was Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent Anthony Mitchell, 39, who had been on assignment in the region. Also aboard were nine crew members. Debris was spread over an area roughly the size of a soccer field. Much of it was shredded beyond recognition, but smaller items were intact - a white tennis shoe, a black purse of braided leather, a length of orange-and-blue cloth that might have been a woman's skirt. "It's a scene of horror," said Bernard Atebede, prefect of the town of Vouri near the site. "I saw things that should never be seen. It makes you realize the fragility of life." He said 20 bodies had been recovered, adding that DNA testing would have to be used to determine the identities of some of the victims. While soldiers in green fatigues and red berets guarded the site, medical workers and villagers in T-shirts collected body parts on stretchers, then carried them on a 20-minute hike through the swamp to ambulances on the nearest road, itself just a muddy track. Trees were chopped down and laid across puddles to make the walk easier. Initially, the search focused on a forested area near the town of Lolodorf, about 90 miles southeast of Douala. Sobakam, the airport meteorology chief, said officials were led astray by an incorrect satellite signal, possibly emitted from the plane. Fishermen living in the mangrove swamp contacted officials and reported hearing a loud sound about the time the plane went down. "It was the fishermen ... who led us to the site," Sobakam said. "It's close enough that we could have seen it from the airport, but apparently there was no smoke or fire." The U.S. and France were among the nations providing aircraft and other equipment to help Cameroon. A team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board was expected Tuesday. Kenya Airways' chief pilot, James Ouma, told journalists that Douala airport does not have weather radar but that such equipment was not mandatory because airliners are required to have their own. (AP) AP writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Tom Maliti in Nairobi, Kenya; Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal; and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report. (AP) On the Net: Kenya Airways: http://www.kenya-airways.com AP-CS-05-07-07 1538EDTcomments powered by Disqus