updated 5/26/2005 4:20:19 AM ET 2005-05-26T08:20:19

Twenty-six people were missing and feared dead after a plane crashed in eastern Congo, an aviation official said Thursday.

The plane went missing shortly after takeoff Wednesday and was found by U.N. helicopters Wednesday night in the dense forests near Walungu, said Raymond Sangara, coordinator of Congo’s civil aviation authority.

All 21 passengers aboard were Congolese traders, including women and children, said Sangara. The pilot was Russian and the four crew members were Ukrainian, he said.

The conditions of those on the plane were not known, and a search for survivors was expected to begin soon, Sangara said.

The plane had lost contact with the radio tower three minutes after leaving the eastern town of Goma. It was bound for Kindu, some to the 240 miles southwest, but never arrived.

Walungu is about 75 miles south of Goma, and further east of the flight path.

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