At least 27 people were killed Wednesday when a plane crashed shortly after taking off from ‘s capital , an AFP reporter said.
Police were pulling the bodies of men, women and children out of the wreckage of the Russian-built Antonov An-12 cargo plane, which smashed into a farming community on an island on the White Nile river, according to the reporter, who counted at least 27 dead.
“Cargo plane heading to Paloch in Upper Nile State crashed just 800 metres from Juba International Airport runway,” reported Radio Miraya, a United Nations-backed station.
The radio station said as many as 40 people were feared dead, adding that airport officials said only three passengers had survived.
Cargo planes to remote parts of South Sudan often carry passengers as well as goods.
The main fuselage of the plane ploughed into thick woodland, with debris scattered around the riverbank in a wide area.
Rescue workers, including Red Cross members, were searching the area for more bodies.
Police at the site said they did not know how many had been onboard the plane when it crashed — nor how many people may have been hit when it smashed into the island — and so were unable to give an official death toll.
The island is home to several small farming communities.
‘s airport is the busiest in the war-torn country, which is the size of and combined but with few tarred roads.
The airport hosts regular commercial flights, as well as a constant string of military aircraft and cargo planes delivering aid to remote regions cut off by road.
Civil war broke out in December 2013 when President accused his former deputy of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
Fighting continues despite an August peace deal, but battles today are far from the capital.
Tens of thousands have been killed, and UN-backed experts have warned of the “concrete risk of famine” before the end of the year, if fighting continues and aid does not reach the hardest-hit areas.