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South Sudan Plane Crash Survivor Says Engine Failed

A Russian-made airplane crashed Saturday in South Sudan near Juba International Airport, killing seven of the eight passengers and crew on board. (VOA/David Mono Danga)

Investigators in Juba were scouring the wreckage Monday of a Russian-made plane that crashed Saturday three kilometers from Juba International Airport, killing seven of the eight passengers and crew on board.

Peter Paul Nhial, the lone survivor of the crash, told South Sudan in Focus on Monday he believes engine failure caused the Antonov-26 to go down.

“As we took off from Juba International Airport to Aweil via Wau, we heard a sound on the engine on the right side of the plane. When that happened, the plane started to descend towards the ground,” Nhial told VOA.

Nhial, who suffered third-degree burns over most of his body, a broken right leg and a severed spinal cord, said after he heard the loud bang, the pilot immediately told the passengers he was returning to the airport.

“As he tried to turn, then the engine shut down, the pilots could not do anything. The plane could not ascend further upwards and could not turn either. So, it fell and burst into flames and scattered us apart,” Nhial told VOA.

The AN-26 was built in 1969, but the plane’s age should not be considered a significant factor, said David Subek Dada, CEO of the South Sudan Civil Aviation Authority.

“If you are talking about the age, how many aircrafts all over the world have crashed — and these are modern new aircrafts? Let us not push that because the aircrafts are old or because we don’t have regulations. There are many reasons an accident can happen whether we like it or not, whether the aircraft is new or old,” Subek told South Sudan in Focus.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, South Sudan Transport and Roads Minister Madut Biar said he suspects some aviation companies could not service their aircraft.

“When coronavirus happened, some of the planes could not fly back to where they are supposed to be serviced in the region or even beyond. Or maybe the engineers that were supposed to come and service the planes here on the ground were locked down because of the coronavirus,” Biar told South Sudan in Focus.

The Transport and Roads Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority have formed a technical committee to investigate the crash and ensure justice for the victims, Biar said.

“The government is going to take action or remedial measures so that such accidents are reduced, including even the pilots themselves and the service companies,” Biar told VOA.

The AN-26 was owned by South West Aviation, a South Sudanese company.

Aviation companies operating in South Sudan must adhere to certain specifications of their aircraft, including weight limits and regular maintenance procedures, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The investigation team is searching for the plane’s black box, which they hope will reveal the cause of the crash.