Passenger Jet Disappears Over Cameroon

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 6, 2007

NAIROBI, May 5 -- A Nairobi-bound Kenya Airways jet carrying more than 100 passengers went missing over the dense forest of Cameroon early Saturday, and a rescue team was still searching for it more than 24 hours later, airline officials said.

Amid stormy weather, Flight 507 took off just after midnight from the coastal city of Douala in the West African country, sent out a distress signal shortly afterward, then lost communication.

Kenya Airways officials said Saturday night that they were looking for the Boeing 737 jet near the town of Lolodorf, about 100 miles southeast of Douala. Because they had not found the aircraft, they could not confirm that it had crashed.

Heavy downpours, thick forest and technical issues such as lack of radar coverage were hampering the search, officials said.

"We have still not spotted the aircraft," Kenya Airways chief executive Titus Naikuni said at a news conference in Nairobi. "The dense forest and heavy rainfall are not helping."

The jet, only six months old, was carrying 114 people from 23 countries, including the United States, airline officials said. Among the passengers was a Nairobi-based Associated Press reporter, Anthony Mitchell, who had been in the region on assignment, the AP said.

At Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, relatives and others waiting to meet sons, sisters and friends were ushered into a room about two hours after the plane was scheduled to land.

Upon hearing the news, several people dissolved into tears or shouted at officials for more information. Others collapsed, according to a witness account.

Kenyan transportation officials said that it was too early to speculate on what might have gone wrong but that they were not ruling out any possibilities.

In the area surrounding Lolodorf, villagers said they heard a loud noise and saw a flash in the sky, the AP reported. Several ambulances were on standby in the area, the agency reported.

A team of Kenyan investigators and search-and-rescue specialists was headed to Cameroon.

Kenya Airways, which is a partner of the Dutch airline KLM, is considered one of the safest airlines in Africa.

The last crash of an international Kenyan Airways flight, which killed 169 people, took place in January 2000. Pilot error and a faulty alarm were blamed for the demise of Flight 431, which had taken off from Ivory Coast and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. Ten people survived.

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