UN divers search South Sudan plane crash site

United Nations divers in South Sudan on Thursday searched the Nile for victims and the black box flight recorder from a plane crash in which at least 36 people died.

The Bangladeshi scuba divers, from the United Nations peacekeeping force, were scouring the White Nile river around the crash site, the UN mission said.

Japanese engineers with the UN later arrived to help lift larger sections of the plane wreck, amid concerns the bodies of more victims may be trapped beneath the metal fuselage.

South Sudan’s transport minister said they were trying to establish what caused Wednesday’s crash, when the Soviet-era Antonov plane smashed into a river bank just after take-off from the capital Juba.

“Our main target now is to uncover all the dead bodies and the black box, and we can launch a full investigation into the crash,” Kwong Danhir Gatluat said.

Police and rescue workers recovered the bodies of 36 men, women and children among the wreckage of the An-12 cargo plane, which crashed into a farming community on an island in the White Nile river, seconds after departure.

Civil Aviation Authority chief Stephen Warikozi told AFP officials were trying to locate the flight manifest — the official list of who was onboard the plane — while the search for “dead bodies and the black box continues.”

The main fuselage of the plane ploughed into thick woodland but the debris was scattered over a wide area around the riverbank, as well as into the river itself.

Police said they did not know how many had been on board the plane when it crashed — nor if anyone had been killed or injured on the ground — and so were unable to give an official death toll.

Cargo planes serving remote parts of South Sudan often carry passengers as well as goods, and are commonly overloaded.

Juba’s airport is the busiest in the war-torn country, which is the size of Spain and Portugal combined but has only a few paved roads.

The airport hosts regular commercial flights, as well as a constant string of military aircraft and cargo planes delivering aid to remote regions cut off by road.

South Sudan was plunged into a civil war in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken country along ethnic lines.

Tens of thousands have been killed and fighting continues despite an August peace deal, but the current battles are taking place far from the capital.

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