Indian Army soldiers rescue Congo crash victims

April 17th, 2008 - 8:16 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) A timely rescue operation mounted by Indian Army troops serving on a UN peacekeeping mission saved the lives of a number of passengers injured in a plane crash in the Congo. The officers and men of the 6th battalion of the Sikh Light Infantry swung into action immediately after a Heba Wora airways DC-9 aircraft with 80 passengers and six crew on board crashed at the southern end of the runway of Goma airport in the North Kivu province of the Congo at 2.45 p.m. Wednesday.

The Indian battalion, which is serving with the North Kivu Brigade of the UN mission in the Congo, was deployed at the Goma airport.

The Indian Army personnel along with the Red Cross managed to rescue six survivors and retrieve 18 bodies from the crash site, a defence ministry statement said Thursday.

“A major success was attained when in spite of the raging fire, Lt. Col. K.S. Mathur of the unit managed to retrieve the flight recorder of the aircraft from its tail end,” the statement said.

“Efforts to recover the remaining bodies and clear the debris are in progress,” it added.

Detailing the events leading up to the crash, the statement said a blast was heard before the aircraft took off and the plane skidded along the runway towards civilian houses at the end of the runway. It came to halt on a road in the heavily congested Birere market area.

“All of a sudden the aircraft burst into flames and the fire started spreading towards the houses and shops in the Birere market area,” the statement said.

The commanding officer of the Indian battalion, Col. S.A. Sharma, “immediately rushed along with all available officers and troops of the unit to the location to take control of the situation,” it added.

“On arriving at the site, six survivors were rescued from the aircraft and were evacuated to the military hospital by Indian Army personnel,” it added.

“Indian Army personnel also started controlling the crowd and preventing looting of the houses and shops. Medical teams and fire fighting resources of the North Kivu Brigade were rushed to the site to douse the fire,” the statement said.

The Indian personnel “brought the fire under control and prevented it from spreading to the houses in the thickly populated Birere market area thereby preventing a major disaster”, it added.

The police and civil administration in the North Kivu province is virtually defunct due to the raging war between the Congolese government and the rebel forces.

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