Sudan jet fire survivor: 'It was panic'

Thursday, June 12, 2008

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Abdel-Menem Hassanein remembers the jetliner landing, and then the chaos -- the blast of an explosion, flames at the front of the plane, screams and the sounds of passengers uttering their last prayers.

The 75-year-old soon realized the flight attendant at the back of the plane where he and his wife sat could not open the exit door.

"Many things were happening at once ... people rushed toward the only open door at the front," he said. He hurried there, pushed his wife out the open exit and onto the emergency slide -- past the flames -- and then immediately followed her.

The couple and more than 170 otheatir people escaped the inferno on the Sudan Airways flight Tuesday night that killed at least 30 people.

"If I didn't keep my cool, we both would have been finished," Hassanein said Wednesday by telephone from his home outside Khartoum.

The jet skidded off the runaway at Khartoum International Airport and rammed into the lights used by pilots to navigate when landing in bad weather, sparking a fire on the aircraft's right side, said police spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdel Majid Al-Tayeb.

The blaze raged for hours, eventually splitting the plane in two, before firefighters put it out.

Thirty people were killed, including one flight attendant; 178 escaped and six people remain unaccounted for, Sudan Airways said.

Some survivors likely left the airport without reporting to authorities or going through customs, officials said.

An investigation into the accident was underway Wednesday. The airport also reopened.

Airbus said it was sending in specialists to help with the inquiry.

It said the plane involved in the accident was 18 years old and had been operated by Sudan Airways since September. Investigators from France were also taking part because the plane was made by France-based Airbus.

The Airbus A310 is a twin-engine, widebody plane used by a number of carriers around the world. Typically configured with about 220 seats, it is a shorter version of the popular A300.

Sudan has a poor aviation safety record and has many small airlines that service Africa's largest country. Three years ago, the government said it planned to build a new airport outside of the city center by 2010. It remains in the planning phase.

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