KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – The crash of a southern Sudanese plane that killed 24 people, including key members of the government, was due to “technical reasons” a top official told The Associated Press Saturday.
Gabriel Changson Chan, the southern Sudanese minister of information and chief spokesman, said that while an investigative committee had yet to be formed, the government believes the plane crashed for technical reasons.
“Up to now we believe the cause of the crash is due to a technical failure with the engine of the plane,” he said about Friday’s crash in which 21 passengers and three crew members died.
The crash claimed the lives of Justin Yak Arop, a presidential adviser on decentralization, and Lt. General Dominic Dim Deng, the minister overseeing the south’s armed forces.
Northern and southern Sudan are in the midst of a delicate process of implementing a 2005 peace agreement ending a civil war between the north and south that lasted 30 years and claimed at least a million lives.
“Although the loss is so great, it will never deter us from the implementation of the peace agreement,” Chan said, noting that the peace process continued even after the death in an air crash of southern leader John Garang in July 2005.
“If you remember we were able to survive after the tragic death of our leader Dr John Garang in 2005, and we will do it again and we will try to avert any negative effects on the (peace agreement’s) implementation,” he said.
The south’s leader, First Vice President Salva Kiir, earlier described the crash as “one of the saddest” the region has witnessed and declared three days of mourning in the south, with flags on government buildings to be flown at half mast.
The crash, according to the Sudanese Civil Aviation Authority, occurred in the village of Rumbek in the southern Bahr al-Ghazal province. The plane’s captain contacted the airport tower to report engine trouble and request an emergency landing. The plane crashed before reaching the airport, added the authority.
A U.N.-operated radio station that broadcasts in the area, Mireya FM, reported the plane belonged to the Southern Sudan Air Connection company.
“Most of the plane crashes that occurred in Sudan happen because the aircraft are old, outdated and unsafe,” Kamal Hassan Bakhit Editor, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Rai Al-Aam, wrote in his daily column Saturday.
“The most modern of these planes is a Soviet model dating from 1970,” he complained in a piece entitled “protect our people from flying coffins,” calling on the government to conduct thorough checkups of official aircraft.
Both the U.N. and the U.S. offered their condolences on the death of the government officials and U.N. aircraft have been put at the disposal of northern and southern Sudanese officials to access the remote site.