The confusion over the crash of a military aircraft chartered to the presidency in Democratic Republic of Congo continued on Sunday, with some reports that the plane – carrying at least eight people – was found in an eastern province different from the one reported on Friday.
Congolese radio station TopCongo 88.4 said its reporters spoke with Francis Ilunga, an official with the province of Sankuru, which is just to the west of Maniema province where villagers reported hearing an explosion from the forests. The Maniema governor insisted the plane did not go down on his territory, and Ilunga confirmed that the wreckage was found in Sankuru instead.
The flight carrying a logistics team for President Felix Tshisekedi took off from Goma about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday with eight passengers and the flight crew, according to a statement from the Congolese Civil Aviation Authority. Contact with the flight was lost about an hour after departure while en route to Kinshasa.
Some passengers were part of a crew accompanying Tshisekedi during a tour of North and South Kivu provinces, where among other things, he met with the community in Beni to discuss the Ebola response. The separate flight, now missing, carried Tshisekedi’s driver and other staff, as well as equipment. Military personnel are among those listed on board the Antonov AN-72 cargo plane.
Yet there are few details beyond that and plenty of conflicting accounts. A Russian diplomat confirmed two fatalities, pilots Vladimir Sadovnichy and Vitaly Shumkov. It is not unusual for pilots trained in Russia to work in DR Congo, though in the absence of information the rumors about why Russians might be on board began to spread.
Ilunga, though, said one pilot was found alive at the scene. Ilunga also confirmed the presence of dead bodies at the remote location in northwest Sankuru and assured Congolese listeners that an investigation was under way.