June 30, 2008
Another day another crash
Just spent most of today covering Sudan's fourth fatal air disaster in two months.
It was also Sudan's second cargo plain crash in fours days. And it was the second time passengers have died in a fireball at the end of our road at Khartoum airport in three weeks.
If Sudan's air safety record wasn't so dismal, now would be the time to start forming conspiracy theories. But no one seems to be suggesting there was anything sinister behind today's accident.
An Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane carrying at least four people, all thought to be Russian, crashed seconds after taking off from Khartoum's city centre airport. One man I spoke to was driving up the runway in an airport bus as the plane took off at 7am local time. He said the left wing of the plane never lifted. Another eye-witness said it was an example of a wing stalling – something to do with a sudden change in air flow around the wing. The plane barely made it 50ft into the air before it suddenly veered to the left and came down in a "fireball".
At the scene, you didn't have to be an air crash investigator to work out what happened next. There was a big black mark on the grass one side of a dual carriageway. There was then a clear trail of smashed concrete and aircraft parts diagonally across both lanes. The plane had come in, skidded across the road, smashed into an electricity line on the other side, disintegrating as it went. It then hit an area of open land – essentially an empty city block - filled with deep trenches and hedged in by office blocks and flats. The only part of the wreckage that was recognisably a plane was about a third of its fuselage that had made it about 100 metres into the wasteland.
It was the first time I had seen a plane crash up close so soon after it happened. And the force created by such a short, low flight was devastating.
There were at least two scary 'what-ifs':
- The plane had come down in one of only a handful of empty blocks in that part of the city. A few seconds sooner or later and it could have piled into the UN headquarters, a nearby military compound, the Afra shopping centre, Sudan's top-end Rotana hotel and, more seriously, any one of scores of other blocks, heavily developed with flats and offices.
- On practically any other day of the year, that dual carriageway would have been packed with cars and trucks and taxis. Today was a public holiday so the road was empty
It was also a reminder of the perils of having a genuinely city-centre airport. AFP had the best description of an airport "located in a built-up area, sandwiched between four main roads, wealthy residential areas and close to key installations such as the UN headquarters".
I can remember feeling very impressed that when I first arrived in Khartoum, it only took five minutes to drive to our flat from the airport. Now, although we have moved about another five minutes away, that doesn't seem like such a good selling point for our beautiful new neighbourhood.
Plans are underway to build a new international airport on the safe outskirts of Omdurman. Those are the same safe outskirts that came under attack from a band of Darfur rebels just over a month ago.
Posted by aheavens at June 30, 2008 6:56 PM