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Military plane bursts into flames at Mogadishu airport

by FP Staff  Aug 10, 2013 04:00 IST

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - An Ethiopian military aircraft carrying ammunition crash-landed at Mogadishu's international airport on Friday, bursting into flames and killing four of the six crew members.

The Soviet-made Antonov 24 plane got into trouble in the air and then missed the runway, hurtling into the ground shortly after 0400 GMT and setting off the ammunition.

Ethiopian troops are supporting Somalia's fight against al Qaeda-linked militants in the Horn of Africa country, although they are not part of an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force.

There was no immediate comment from Ethiopia's foreign ministry.

"We can hear explosions as it burns. It is burning like hell," said one security source at the airport. After the fire was put out, only a blackened shell of the plane remained.

The AU peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, said in a statement four crew members were killed and two were in hospital.

It was unclear what ammunition the plane was carrying and where it was headed. A convoy of empty Somali military trucks had earlier been seen at the airport.

In March, the U.N. Security Council partially lifted a decades-old arms embargo for one year to help the government buy light weapons to strengthen its military to fight the Islamist rebel group, al Shabaab.

AMISOM said the airport, home to a growing number of passenger flights since African troops and Somali government forces flushed al Shabaab rebels from their bases in the capital two years ago, would resume operations shortly.

It gave no details on what caused the plane to crash.

Military aircraft regularly land at the city's airport, which also serves as the headquarters for the AU peacekeepers.

Ethiopia sent forces inside Somalia in 2011 to open up a new front in the military campaign to crush the al Shabaab insurgents and end their six-year fight to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law on the country.

The Addis Ababa government is, though, frustrated by the slow pace at which the 17,700-strong AU force and Somali troops have backfilled areas liberated from al Shabaab. Earlier this year Ethiopia threatened to pull its soldiers out.

Somalia's aviation record is among the worst on a continent which has a history of plane disasters. Until recently, the carcass of another Russian-made cargo plane lay tilted on its belly near the passenger terminal of Mogadishu's airport. (Writing by Richard Lough)