Mourners mourn 19 coffins after plane crash in Tanzania

  • Precision Air plane crashes into Lake Victoria
  • 19 people killed, 24 survivors alive
  • Aircraft manufactured by the Franco-Italian firm ATR
  • French investigators lend a hand to the Tanzanian investigation

DAR ES SALAAM, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Crying relatives of the 19 people who died when a plane crashed into Tanzania’s Lake Victoria walked past a row of coffins in the lakeside town of Bukoba on Monday as chiefs religious and political gathered for a ceremony to pay tribute to the victims.

Flight PW494, operated by Tanzanian airline Precision Air and carrying 43 people, hit water in stormy weather as it attempted to land at Bukoba airport early Sunday morning from the capital Dar es Hello.

Transport Minister Makame Mbarawa told mourners gathered at a stadium that the weather had abruptly changed from good to stormy as the plane approached the airport.

“There was rain accompanied by thunderstorms and high winds that had a downdraft,” he said, referring to a downdraft.

Tanzanian authorities were investigating the causes of the crash and would publish their findings, he said.

A team from the French air accident investigation agency BEA as well as technical advisers from the Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR (AIR.PA)(LDOF.MI), which built the ATR 42-500 turboprop, were on their way to Tanzania to help, a BEA spokesperson said.

In Bukoba, the 19 coffins were carried into the stadium by Tanzanian troops and then laid out in a row, each decorated with flowers and a photograph of the deceased. Relatives lowered their heads and some burst into tears as they walked past.

Footage of the immediate aftermath of the crash showed the plane’s tailplane, emblazoned with the Precision Air logo – the silhouette of a gazelle against a yellow sun – rolling out of the lake.

People rushed to the scene in boats and some swam in the lake to help rescue trapped passengers and recover bodies.

At Monday’s ceremony, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa honored a young fisherman who was among the first rescuers. The government will reward him with 1 million Tanzanian shillings ($430) and hire him as a first responder.

Experts say most plane crashes are caused by a cocktail of factors that take months to fully understand.

Under international rules, Tanzania’s investigation would include the participation of authorities in France, where the plane was designed, and Canada, where its Pratt & Whitney (RTX.N) engines were developed.

ATR said it was “fully committed to supporting the customer and the investigation.”

($1 = 2,327.0000 Tanzanian shillings)

Reporting by Nuzulack Dausen in Dar es Salaam and Tim Hepher in Paris; Written by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Barbara Lewis

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