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Thursday November 2, 2000

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48 Die in Angola Crash

By The Associated Press

LUANDA, Angola - A charter plane burst into flames minutes after takeoff, crashing into a remote jungle in a key diamond-mining region, authorities said yesterday. All 48 people aboard were killed, reports said.

The cause of the crash Tuesday evening was not immediately known. Flight disasters in Angola are commonly blamed on poor aircraft maintenance or rebel gunfire.

The Antonov 26 had just departed from the northern Angolan town of Saurimo, 500 miles east of Luanda, when it exploded into a fireball at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Civil Aviation Director Branco Ferreira said yesterday.

The region has been the focus of fierce civil warfare between the army and rebels from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA. They have been fighting since the southwest African country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

The Soviet-built plane, owned by the Angolan company Ancargo, was chartered by a travel agency called Guicango, the Portuguese new agency Lusa said.

Private companies often hire Antonov planes to transport passengers and cargo across Angola since land mines and skirmishes make road travel treacherous.

UNITA rebels in the past have targeted civilian planes they suspect of ferrying supplies to government troops.

The Ancargo plane, on a domestic flight, had left Luanda in the morning and was refueling in Saurimo on its way back to the capital, Ferreira said.

Witnesses told state television TPA that they saw the plane go down in flames. All 42 passengers and six crew members were killed, Lusa said.

The crew was Ukrainian, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said. Ferreira did not release a casualty figure but had said the crew was Russian.

Many of the pilots flying Antonov planes in Angola are Russian. Last month, the government announced that some 400 Russian pilots working in Angola would have to pass new flying tests.

The Angolan Association of Pilots welcomed the decision, saying Russian pilots often are accused of flying while drunk and failing to maintain their aircraft.

Angolan aviation experts also traveled in September to Moscow to urge Russian authorities to stop exporting rundown aircraft to Angola.

In March, a Soviet-made Antonov 36 crashed during takeoff in central Angola. Three people were killed and 30 others injured.