A cargo plane crashes into a market in Kinshasa, Zaire, killing at least 350 people

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The aftermath of the plane crash in KinshasaThe aftermath of the plane crash in Kinshasa. sources:Photoraph by Detroit News

Thursday, 8 February 1996

On 8 February 1996 an Africa Air Antonov 32 cargo plane crashed into a market made of wood and iron shacks, killing between 250 and 350 people in Kinshasa, Zaire (now The Democratic Republic of Congo). The plane, allegedly on its way to deliver supplies to Jonas Savimbi’s rebel group UNITA in Angola, had been filled beyond its capacity and failed to take off.  It ran off the runway straight into the market where it tore through the shacks, people and cars before bursting into flames.

The market, erected just next to Ndolo Airport in Kinshasa, was filled mostly with women and children. People were burned and mutilated in the crash. In the chaos that followed, some of the survivors attempted to rescue the injured, while others looted the market and yanked jewelry off dead bodies and decapitated limbs. Of the six crew members, four survived, and barely escaped being attacked by the mob at the gruesome scene. Only 66 of the bodies could be identified, the others were burnt beyond recognition.

It later came to light that the flight had been illegal as Africa Air did not have the clearance papers to operate the flight and had borrowed papers from Scibe Air.  It was also established that the pilots, who were Russian, were not qualified and were possibly drunk during takeoff. The pilots were convicted and were each sentenced to 2 years in prison. Both Africa Air and Scibe Airlines were fined for compensation to the amount of 1.4 million dollars. Africa Air subsequently became defunct.

Though it did not get much media coverage, it is considered the worst plane crash ever in Africa.

References:
• Rider E., The Forgotten Disaster in Zaire, from Airlines.net, [online], Available at www.airliners.net [Accessed:  18 January 2012]
• Reuters, (1996), Plane in Zaire Hits Market, Killing 250, from NY Times, [online], Available at www.nytimes.com [Accessed: 18 January 2012]

Last updated : 28-Jan-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 01-Feb-2012