3 Americans among 104 people feared dead in Kam Air crash

Boeing 737 went down in mountains near Kabul

February 05, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KABUL, Afghanistan - Three American aid workers were among the 104 passengers and crew feared dead after their plane crashed Thursday afternoon in the mountains southeast of Kabul, according to reports in the Afghan news media yesterday. The plane, a Kam Air Boeing 737 en route from Herat, in the west, came down in heavy snow after failing in its first attempt to land at the Kabul airport, they said.

Nine Turkish citizens were also on the plane, the Turkish government announced. Six of the crew members were Russians from Kyrgyzstan, and two were Afghans. The remaining 84 passengers were also thought to be Afghans.

The minister of transport, Enayatullah Qasimi, confirmed at a news briefing yesterday that the plane had been missing since its last radio contact at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. It had requested permission to land in Kabul but disappeared from radar screens when it was about three miles east of the city, he said.

According to local media reports, parts of the wreckage were found yesterday at Butkhak, in the Khaki Jabar district, about 12 miles southeast of the capital, a remote area of steep mountain ridges reaching 13,000 feet. NATO peacekeepers and Afghan forces scoured the area looking for the wreckage but called off the search at dusk.

The three American aid workers, all women, were employees of Management Sciences for Health, a nonprofit company in Cambridge, Mass., that works on public health problems.

William Schiffbauer, the company's Kabul representative, said the women had not intended to take the flight but had secured tickets at the last minute to get back to Kabul for meetings. He declined to name the employees but described them as "three young women," two of whom were in Afghanistan on short-term assignments of several weeks.

Flying in and out of Kabul, which is ringed by mountains, is particularly difficult when snow or rain closes in, shrouding the high peaks. Preliminary reports pointed to poor visibility as a primary factor in the crash.

The plane was cleared to land by air traffic controllers at Kabul's airport and the U.S. air base at Bagram, which controls the airspace, Qasimi said. Visibility on Thursday was very poor, however, with a ceiling of about 6,500 feet, he said, noting that Kabul lies at about 6,000 feet.

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