Mourners weep over 19 coffins after Tanzania plane crash
DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Weeping relatives of the 19 people who died when a plane crashed into Lake Victoria in Tanzania filed past a row of coffins in the lakeside town of Bukoba on Monday as religious and political leaders gathered for a ceremony to honour the victims.
Flight PW494, operated by Tanzanian airline Precision Air and carrying 43 people, hit the water in stormy weather as it tried to land at Bukoba airport early on Sunday morning, arriving from the capital Dar es Salaam.
Transport Minister Makame Mbarawa told mourners gathered in a stadium that the weather had abruptly changed from good to stormy just as the plane was approaching the airport.
“There was rain accompanied by thunderstorms and heavy wind which had downdraft,” he said, referring to a downward current.
The Tanzanian authorities were investigating the causes of the crash and would publish their findings, he said.
A team from France’s BEA air accident investigation agency along with technical advisers from Franco-Italian planemaker ATR, which built the ATR 42-500 turboprop, were on their way to Tanzania to assist, a BEA spokesman said.
In Bukoba, the 19 coffins were carried into the stadium by Tanzanian troops, then laid in a row, each decorated with flowers and a photograph of the deceased person. Relatives bowed their heads and some broke down in tears as they filed past.
Footage of the immediate aftermath of the crash showed the aircraft’s tail fin, decorated with the Precision Air logo – the silhouette of a gazelle in front of a yellow sun – sticking out of the lake.
People rushed to the scene in boats and some swam in the lake to help rescue trapped passengers and recover bodies.
At the ceremony on Monday, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa singled out for praise a young fisherman who was among the first rescuers. The government will reward him with 1 million Tanzanian shillings ($430) and hire him as a first responder.
Experts say most plane crashes are caused by a cocktail of factors that take months to understand fully.
Under international rules, the Tanzanian-led investigation would include the participation of authorities in France, where the plane was designed, and Canada, where its Pratt & Whitney engines were developed.
ATR said it was “fully engaged to support the customer and the investigation”.
($1 = 2,327.0000 Tanzanian shillings)
(Reporting by Nuzulack Dausen in Dar es Salaam and Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Barbara Lewis)