Cameroon: Fog and thick forest reduced visibility to about 200 meters (yards) on 6 May as rescuers resumed the search in southern Cameroon for a Kenya-bound flight that crashed with 114 people on board after sending out a distress signal.
Rescuers suspended the search because of heavy rains on the evening of 5 May. Though rains had subsided by daybreak,fog persisted, reducing visibility levels drastically.
The jet bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, went down early Saturday near Lolodorf, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of the coastal city of Douala, where it took off after midnight, said Alex Bayeck, regional communications officer.
There was no word on survivors even as search planes flew over the forested area where the airliner gave off a distress signal and no wreckage has been spotted yet.
The search continued on the ground into the night since helicopters could not operate in the dark. Helicopters would start again and more rescue workers including security forces were expected to join later on 6 May. Initial search was largely done by volunteers from local villages.
Relatives and colleagues of those aboard made their way to the remote area, which has few roads and is dotted by small villages. Some expressed willingness to search themselves but acknowledged they did not know how to begin in the tough conditions. The area is mountainous and heavily forested. The fear is that the plane may have fallen into a valley.
Infrastructure is poor in Cameroon’s interior and most of the search is through dirt tracks that turn to impassable mud in the rains. The country of 17 million on Africa’s western coast has oil reserves and lush farmland but many of its citizens remain poor subsistence farmers.
Residents in the area reported hearing a “large boom” during the previous night and a flash of fire that looked markedly different from lightning. Close to a dozen ambulances stood ready in Lolodorf on Saturday.
In Kenya, Kenya Airways CEO Titus Naikuni held back on confirming the crash “until we see the plane, until then, it’s missing,” he said. He said the distress call was issued automatically,“from a machine, not a pilot” but said a crash is not the only reason a plane issues an automatic distress signal.
Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said the plane that crashed was equipped with an emergency transmitter that sends out an automatic locator signal “in the event of a rapid change in velocity.”
The Boeing 737-800 was carrying 114 people, including 105 passengers from at least 23 countries, Kenyan airline officials said. The flight departed Douala at 12:05 a.m. and was to have arrived in Nairobi at 6:15 a.m. The flight originated in Ivory Coast and stopped in Cameroon to pick up more passengers, the airline said.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to assist Cameroon in its investigation of the crash. The last crash of an international Kenya Airways flight was on 30 January, 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.