An Algerian military plane has crashed near the capital killing 257 people on board, officials say. The aircraft came down just after taking off from Boufarik military airport, west of Algiers.
An inquiry is under way into the cause of the crash – Algeria’s worst-ever air disaster. The government has declared three days of national mourning.
Most of the dead are army personnel and their families, the defence ministry says. Ten crew members also died.
Passengers from Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco after Spain withdrew in 1975, were among the fatalities.
The Polisario Front, which is seeking independence for the territory and is backed by Algeria, says 30 Western Saharans, including women and children, died. A senior member of Algeria’s ruling FLN party said those killed included 26 Polisario members.
The plane, an Ilyushin Il-76, was travelling to Bechar and Tindouf in the south-west of the country. The Tindouf region, which borders Western Sahara, is home to refugee camps and serves as a base for the Polisario Front.
Witnesses say they saw a wing catch fire as the plane took off. It then went down, avoiding a highway and crashing into a field.
A military aviation observer told the BBC that, based on how intact portions of the plane were, they believed the pilot had tried to crash-land.
Dozens of firefighters and rescuers worked around the smouldering wreckage. One eyewitness told local television: “We saw bodies burned. It is a real disaster”.
Officials are quoted as saying some survivors were taken to hospital, but it is unclear how many there were or what their current condition is.
Wednesday’s plane crash is the deadliest in the world since July 2014, when all 298 people on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 died when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
It is also the second-deadliest plane crash since 2003.
Four years ago a plane carrying military personnel and family members crashed in Algeria, killing 77 people. BBC News
The deadliest crashes of the past 15 years
- 17 July 2014: Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashes near Grabove in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, 193 of them Dutch. Pro-Russian rebels are widely accused of shooting the plane down using a surface-to-air missile – they deny responsibility
- 19 February 2003: An Iranian military transport aircraft carrying 276 people crashes in the south of the country, killing all on board
- 1 June 2009: An Air France Airbus 330 travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashes into the Atlantic with 228 people on board. Search teams later recover some 50 bodies
- 31 October 2015: An Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia, crashes over central Sinai some 22 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. The Islamic State group’s local affiliate later says it brought down the plane in response to Russian intervention in Syria
- 7 July 2007: A TAM Airlines jet crashes on landing at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, in Brazil’s worst-ever air disaster. A total of 199 people are killed – all 186 on board and 13 on the ground