KHARTOUM, Sudan A Sudanese jetliner landed in a thunderstorm and veered off the runway late Tuesday, bursting into flames and killing dozens of people, Sudanese officials said.
Official and state media said immediately after the crash that about half the 203 passengers aboard the Airbus A310 had been killed in the crash around 9 p.m. But several hours later officials began reporting a lower toll.
One flight attendant said the crew had evacuated the passengers from the plane.
"Thank God we were able to get all the passengers out," said Sarrah Faisal, her voice shaking as she spoke to Sudanese TV from a stretcher, wearing a plastic neck-brace. She gave no more details.
Deputy parliament speaker Mohammed al-Hassan al-Ameen said the death toll was "about 30 people." Police spokesman Mohammed Abdel Majid al-Tayeb said five bodies had been pulled from the wreckage, 100 people were safe and an unspecified number were hospitalized.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said the plane appeared to have left the runway as it landed at Khartoum International Airport.
Sudanese television footage showed a hellish scene, with orange flames dwarfing firefighters and towering above the shattered fuselage. Ambulances and firetrucks rushed to the scene. Media were kept away from the blaze.
Youssef Ibrahim, director of the Khartoum airport, told Sudanese TV that the plane "landed safely" in Khartoum and the pilot was talking to the control tower and getting further instructions when the accident occurred.
"One of the (plane's) engines exploded and the plane caught fire," Ibrahim said. He said bad weather did not cause the crash, which he blamed on a technical problem.
The Sudanese ambassador to Washington called the weather "very bad" and said the runway was drenched by rain.
The head of Sudanese police, Mohammad Najib, said bad weather "caused the plane to crash land, split into two and catch fire."
"We believe that most of the passengers were able to make it out and escape with their lives," said Najib, without disclosing further details on how they escaped.
But he stressed that officials could not say for sure how many were killed.
The airport was experiencing a thunderstorm and winds about 20 mph at the time of the crash, said Elaine Yang, a meteorologist with the San Francisco-based Weather Underground, a private weather service.
Raqeeb Abdel-Latif, head of the Sudan Airways office in Damascus, Syria, said the plane had joined the Sudanese national carrier fleet seven months ago.
It took off from Damascus with 203 passengers on board, mostly Africans and a few non-Sudanese nationals and 14 crew members. It stopped in Amman, where 34 additional passengers came on board.
Due to inclement weather, the aircraft stopped at Port Sudan Airport along the Red Sea picking up 35 passengers and refueling before heading back, Sudanese Ambassador John Ukec Lueth Ukec said in Washington.
Upon arrival the weather was "still very bad," said Ukec. "There was a lot of water on the runway and they still tried to land."
Most of the passengers were believed to be Sudanese, with some foreigners among them, the ambassador said.
Spokesmen for the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington said they were monitoring the situation.
Sudan has a poor aviation safety record. In May, a plane crash in a remote area of southern Sudan killed 24 people, including key members of the southern Sudanese government.
The Airbus A310 is a twin-engine, wide-body plane used by a number of carriers around the world. Typically configured with about 220 seats, it is a shorter version of the popular A300.
Airbus is operated by the European aerospace giant European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. It has delivered 255 A310s as of May.
An Airbus spokesman in Paris declined immediate comment on the crash.
In 1997, then President Clinton issued an executive order barring the export of goods and technology to Sudan because of the country's "support for international terrorism, ongoing efforts to destabilize neighboring governments, and the prevalence of human rights violations."
The United States maintains a broad array of sanctions on Sudan that bar the export of most goods, services and technology, including advanced navigation systems,
In July 2003, a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 en route from Port Sudan to Khartoum crashed soon after takeoff, killing all 115 people on board.
After that crash, Sudanese officials blamed sanctions for restricting vital aircraft parts. The U.S. State Department said there was no ban on equipment needed for aviation safety.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed an embargo on providing arms or military training to armed groups in Sudan's Darfur region and a travel ban and asset freeze on some people implicated in the violence there.
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