Algeria's deadliest plane crash leaves 257 people dead

247 passengers, made up of Algerian soldiers and their relatives, died along with 10 crew members when the plane crashed into a field near the country's capital on Wednesday

Rescue workers at the scene. (Photo: AP)
Rescue workers at the scene. (Photo: AP)

An Algerian military plane crashed near the capital on Wednesday, killing 257 people on board,  in what appears to be the worst plane crash in the north African country’s history, officials say.

The defence ministry said 247 passengers, made up of Algerian soldiers and their relatives, died along with 10 crew members when the plane crashed into a field on Wednesday, next to an airbase in the town of Boufarik, 20 miles (30km) from the capital, Algiers.

The cause of the crash was unclear and an investigation had been launched, the ministry said. The head of the Algerian army, the vice-minister of defence, and military chief of staff visited the crash site to inspect the wreckage.

The government has declared three days of national mourning.

The private Algerian TV network Ennahar published images of body bags lined up in the field. It is the deadliest plane crash since Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

The aircraft that crashed on Wednesday was a Russian-built Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane.

The Il-76 has been involved in a number of crashes, most recently in 2016 when one on a firefighting mission crashed near Lake Baikal in north-east Siberia, killing all 10 crew members on board. An Il-76 owned by the Iranian air force also crashed near Varamin in 2009, killing seven people, but the cause is disputed.

Wednesday’s flight was en route to the Algerian region of Tindouf before heading south to Béchar, according to the defence ministry. Tindouf borders Morocco and the restive Western Sahara, which is claimed by Morocco and the Polisario Front.

A member of Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party told Ennahar that about 26 of the dead included members of the Polisario Front, according to Reuters, and Algérie24  that 26 of those killed were citizens of Western Sahara.

The Polisario Front is a separatist group that promotes independence for the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara, some of whom live in Tindouf.

The previous most deadly crash on Algerian soil occurred in 2003, when 102 people were killed after a civilian airliner crashed at the end of the runway in Tamanrasset. There was a single survivor.

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