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Missing Mozambican plane wreck found in Namibia, all 33 on board dead

Police on Saturday found the burned wreckage of a Mozambican Airlines plane a day after it went missing in a remote area in northeastern Namibia, saying none of the 33 people aboard from several countries had survived.

It is one of the worst accidents on record in Mozambique’s civil aviation history.

“My team on the ground have found the wreckage. No survivors. The plane is totally burned,” Willie Bampton, a regional police coordinator in Namibia’s Kavango region, told AFP.

The aircraft, en route from Mozambique to Angola, went down in deserted, swampy terrain in the Bwabwata National Park, where Namibia turns into a narrow strip of land sandwiched between Botswana and Angola.

In Maputo, LAM, the acronym for Mozambican Airlines, had not yet officially confirmed the crash.

It only said that flight TM470 had 27 passengers and six crew on board, including: 10 Mozambicans, nine Angolans, five Portuguese, one French national, one Brazilian and one Chinese.

In Lisbon, the foreign ministry said the Brazilian had, in fact, dual Portuguese-Brazilian nationality.

The Mozambique government was holding an emergency meeting in the presidential palace but likewise made no immediate statement, other than to confirm that 33 people had been on board.

The European Union banned LAM and all air carriers certified in Mozambique from flying in its airspace in 2011, citing “significant safety deficiencies”.

The concern was about Mozambique’s civil aviation authority, rather than the track record of the various airlines.

The LAM plane took off from Maputo at 0926 GMT Friday for the nearly four-hour flight to the Angolan capital Luanda.

Mozambican authorities confirmed the plane was a Brazil-manufactured Embraer 190 aircraft and said it was the newest plane in the LAM fleet.

With 100 seats, it was two-thirds empty.

Last contact with air traffic controllers was made at 1130 GMT over north Namibia during heavy rainfall. The airlines speculated Friday it may have landed in that area.

Namibia police sent a search team to the area after Botswana officials alerted them of a plane crash in the area.

“Botswana officials informed us that they saw smoke in the air and they thought the crash happened in their country, but when they came to the border they realised that it was in Namibia,” Bampton said.

The search for the plane was hampered both by the rough terrain and torrential rains pounding the area where the plane went missing, Bampton told AFP.

“There are no proper roads, you have to go through the bush, slowly and its making our job difficult,” he said.

Villagers who had heard explosions helped point police in the right direction.

Before the wreckage was found, people close to those on board gathered at Maputo airport, many frustrated at what they said was the lack of information.

“They told us it was a forced landing. I know it’s a crash,” said Luis Paolo, a friend of one of what were said to be two Portuguese businessmen on the flight.

Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco published a condolence message to the families of the victims.

“According to information available at this point, six Portuguese citizens were on board,” it said. “With great sorrow, we will continue to follow developments in this tragic accident.”

The accident is the deadliest for Mozambique since a plane carrying then president Samora Machel crashed in 1986 in South Africa en route home from an Africa’s leaders’ summit. That crash, which shocked the world, remains a mystery but was thought to be linked to tensions with the then apartheid regime in Pretoria. The crash claimed at least 34 lives.

Mozambique said it would set up a commission of enquiry to work with Namibian authorities over Friday’s crash.

The Bwabwata National Park, a 6,100-square-kilometre (2,355 square mile) reserve, is a sparsely-populated area covered by wetlands and dense forests.