DOUALA, Cameroon — The wreckage of a Kenya Airways jetliner that crashed with 114 people aboard was found Sunday in a mangrove forest, an aviation official said, more than 40 hours after the plane disappeared outside Cameroon's commercial capital.
The wreckage was found about six miles outside Douala, said Thomas Sobakam, chief of meteorology for the city's airport. He said there was no word yet on survivors or the condition of the jetliner, which lost contact with the radio tower between 11 and 13 minutes after takeoff shortly after midnight on Saturday.
He said local fishermen led searchers to the site.
"It's close enough that we could have seen it from the airport — but apparently there was no smoke or fire," Sobakam said.
The search had initially focused on the thickly forested mountains near the town of Lolodorf, about 90 miles southeast of this coastal city, a nearly five hour's drive away on badly maintained roads. Sobakam said that they had been led to believe the plane had crashed in the vast and largely inaccessible forest because of an incorrect satellite signal, possibly from the crashing plane.
Heavy rains slowed search
The search in the fog-shrouded forest was hampered by heavy rains. At the same time, aviation authorities sent out a ground crew to investigate claims by fishermen living in the swampy mangroves near the Douala airport. Several reported hearing a loud sound at the time of the suspected crash.
The Nairobi, Kenya-bound plane took off an hour late due to a heavy rainstorm. The drenching rains in the forest of Lolodorf may also have camouflaged the smoldering wreck in the nighttime hours immediately after the crash.
Cameroon rescue vehicles, including ambulances and fire trucks, rushed toward the scene of the crash Sunday with sirens blaring but were finding it difficult to navigate the narrow roads through the swamp, journalists in the convoy said.
The Nairobi, Kenya-bound plane, carrying 105 passengers and nine crew members from 27 different countries, took off an hour late due to a heavy rainstorm. The drenching rains may have camouflaged the smoldering wreck in the nighttime hours immediately after the crash.
AP reporter on passenger list
Among the passengers of the Boeing 737-800 was a Nairobi-based Associated Press correspondent, Anthony Mitchell, one of five Britons on a passenger list released by the airline. Mitchell had been on assignment in the region.
"We hope for the best," said Kathleen Carroll, the AP executive editor.
Officials said it was too early to tell what might have caused the plane to go down between 11 and 13 minutes after takeoff.
"A plane never takes off into a thunderstorm, no crew or carrier would allow that. But it is remotely possible that the plane could have inadvertently gone into some extremely turbulent air and suffered massive hail damage or a sudden structural failure."
Before the wreckage was found, family members of the passengers and crew of Flight 507 gathered at the Nairobi and Douala airports, weeping. The airline opened crisis centers at both airports.
"Oh my last born, my last born, where am I going to go?" Kezzia Musimbi Kadurenge, the mother of a missing crew member, said in Kenya. "I'm finished."
Frequent intermediary flight to Europe
The Douala-Nairobi flight runs several times a week, and is commonly used as an intermediary flight to Europe and the Middle East.
Kenya Airways -- considered one of the safest airlines in Africa -- said most passengers were planning to transfer to ongoing flights in Nairobi. Naikuni said the plane was only six months old when it crashed.
The last crash of an international Kenya Airways flight was on Jan. 30, 2000, when Flight 431 was taking off from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on its way to Nairobi. Investigators blamed a faulty alarm and pilot error for that crash, which killed 169 people.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to assist Cameroon in its investigation.
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