143 Passengers Killed in Gulf Air Plane Crash off Bahrain
Rescue workers have recovered the bodies of all 143 passengers and crew from the Gulf Air plane which crashed into the Gulf off Bahrain, a Bahraini civil defense official said early Thursday.
The Gulf Air Airbus A320, on a flight from Cairo, crashed into shallow waters off the Gulf as it was attempting to land in Bahrain Wednesday.
"We have pulled out the bodies of the 143 people who were on board the plane," Abdul-Rahman bin Rashed al-Khalifa, administration director of Bahrain's Civil Defense, told state television.
The rescuers, including frogmen, were aided by searchlight-equipped helicopters and ships from the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet as they searched in the darkness for survivors among the debris from the plane.
They also recovered the 'black box' flight data recorder from the wreckage, a Bahraini government official announced Thursday.
The search was continuing for the cockpit voice recorder, which will also help investigators discover exactly what caused the crash.
The Airbus A320 on a flight from Cairo crashed in the Gulf off Bahrain with an engine on fire while making its third attempt to land, officials said.
"The captain issued no distress signal before the plane went down," a senior transport ministry official said, adding that the airport remained open.
A Gulf Air official said the passengers aboard the ill-fated airliner included 63 Egyptians, 34 Bahrainis, 12 Saudis, nine Palestinians, six from the United Arab Emirates, three Chinese, two Britons, and one passenger each from Australia, Canada, Kuwait, Sudan, Oman and the United States.
The crew comprised the pilot from Bahrain, a Pole, an Egyptian, an Indian, one Filipino, one Moroccan, an Omani and another from Bahrain, officials said.
Twenty-six children aged ten years or under were among those on board.
The Bahraini authorities are making arrangements for bereaved relatives to come to Bahrain later Thursday morning, to identify the bodies.
A special flight would bring in relatives of the 63 Egyptian victims of the crash, Abdul Rahman said.
Stunned relatives of those on board Flight GF072 gathered at Cairo airport, venting their grief or in some cases refusing to believe what had happened.
The scene in Cairo was reminiscent of the aftermath of last October's EgyptAir Flight 990 crash, which left 80 Egyptians dead among the 217 people who died when the Boeing 767 plunged into the Atlantic off the US coast.
"Nobody has given us any information," Marzuk Abdelatif Shaladi repeated as he cried. Two brothers of the Egyptian man's son-in-law, who hold Emirati citizenship, were on the Airbus A320, he said.
The US State Department said a US diplomatic courier was aboard, while a passport official in Cairo said an Egyptian, Hisham al-Husseini, 27, had been turned away just as he was about to board because there was a problem with his Bahrain work permit.
The Bahrain government said the Airbus crashed in shallow water in the Gulf some six kilometers (four miles) from the airport after a fire broke out in one of its two engines.
But local television quoted an airline official as saying it came down 1.8 kilometers (one mile) from the runway, sideslipping into the sea from a height of 200 meters (600 feet).
Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, Bahrain's emir, declared three days of national mourning and announced the formation of a commission to determine the cause of the crash. US national Transport Security Bureau and Airbus Industrie experts will be invited to take part.
European aircraft-maker Airbus Industrie said late Wednesday it was sending a team to Bahrain to help authorities with the probe.
The consortium said the plane had been delivered to Gulf Air in September 1994, and that it had accumulated 17,177 flying hours in 13,848 flights.
It was only the fifth fatal crash of an A320, of which some 840 are in service worldwide, although Gulf Air had 86 passengers injured when one of the same type of aircraft ran off the runway while taking off from Abu Dhabi in March 1997.
Gulf Air, which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, belongs in equal parts to Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the government of Abu Dhabi, the largest principality in the United Arab Emirates.
The twin-engined Airbus A320 craft is part of the fastest-selling jetliner family, according to the European consortium which builds the aircraft.
Accommodating up to 150 passengers and with a range of 3,000 nautical miles, the single-aisle A320 was introduced more than 10 years ago, employing state of the art computerized fly-by-wire technology - MANAMA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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