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257 dead in military plane crash in Algeria

ALGERIA (OBSERVATORY) – A plane crash killed 257 people on Wednesday after taking off from Boufarik air base, about 25 km (25 miles) south of Algiers, the Defense Ministry said, adding that the dead were mostly soldiers and members of their families.

An AFP cameraman saw the charred wreckage of the plane after putting out a fire in an agricultural field where hundreds of ambulances and dozens of fire engines, about 100 meters from the base fence, were cordoned off by security forces and prevented journalists and curious people from approaching.

The victims were the 10 crew members and 247 passengers, “most of them members of the National People’s Army and members of their families,” the ministry said, without mentioning survivors.

The Deputy Minister of Defense, Chief of Staff of the Algerian National People’s Army, Lieutenant General Ahmed Kayed Salah inspected the site and ordered the formation of a commission of inquiry “immediately” to find out the circumstances of the incident, according to the Ministry of Defense.

The Ilyushin IL 76, a Soviet and Russian-made aircraft, can be used for civilian or military transport and can transport between 126 and 225 people, according to the company’s website.

The plane crashed in the morning while traveling between Boufarik-Tindouf-Bachar, the defense ministry said. Tindouf is about 1,800 km from the capital, near the border with Morocco and Western Sahara, where Saharawi refugee camps and the headquarters of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADC), declared in 1976 by the Polisario Front, are located. Algeria supports the Polisario to demand the independence of Western Sahara, which Morocco considers part of its territory.

Bashar is about 1,000 km south-west of Algeria and has a large military base near the closed border between Algeria and Morocco.

– A series of aviation accidents –

No one has yet been made aware of the cause of the accident. Dozens of people have been killed in recent years in Algerian army aircraft crashes.

The worst of these incidents occurred in February 2014, when 77 military and family members died in the crash of a Hercules-130 transport aircraft of the Ministry of Defense traveling between Tamanrasset, 2,000 km south of Algiers and Constantine, 450 kilometers east of the capital.

One person survived the accident, which the Defense Ministry attributed to the weather.

In June last year, two crew members of the Algerian national gendarmerie were killed and one wounded when it fell in southwest Algeria because of a technical malfunction.

In November 2014, a MiG-25 crashed in a training course 200 km south of the capital after the success of its pilot. A month earlier, a Sukhoi-24 fighter crashed during training in the south of the capital and two soldiers were killed on board.

In December 2012, two military pilots were killed in a clash between their fighter jets during training exercises in Tlemcen in the far west.

A month earlier, six people, five civilians and a representative of the Bank of Algeria, were killed when their Algerian army plane crashed in southeastern France in an incident attributed to the ice accumulation.