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Boeing 747 crashes in Eastern Canada

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A Boeing 747-200 aircraft with seven crew members aboard crashed Thursday at Halifax International Airport. All seven aboard the jet, which is owned by MK Airlines Ltd. of Britain and Ghana, were killed, say Canadian authorities.

The aircraft was loaded with fish, lobsters and lawn tractors, they say.

Parts of the 747 are made at Boeing Wichita.

Boeing Seattle spokeswoman Liz Verdier says a three-person team has been dispatched to the scene.

Boeing usually dispatches an investigation team to the site of crashes involving its jets, especially one involving its largest product, the 747 model. Verdier says it has been at least two years since the last fatal incident involving a 747.

The crash occurred at about 4 a.m. local time and resulted in a fire, officials say. A cause has not been determined, but officials say it appears the tail section separated from the rest of the aircraft on takeoff.

According to Aviation Safety Network, an independent safety agency, the crash was the fourth for MK Airlines.

© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.

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9:16pm (UK)

Two Britons Feared Dead in Canada Plane Crash

By Caroline Gammell, PA News

Two Britons are feared to have been killed in a cargo plane which crashed immediately after take-off in eastern Canada and burst into flames.

They were believed to have been part of a seven-strong crew who all died when the Boeing 747 got into trouble shortly after leaving Halifax in Nova Scotia and ploughed into a quarry.

Emergency services battled for four hours to quell the flames that engulfed the fuel-laden aircraft, which was carrying a consignment of tractors, lobsters and fish to Spain.

The Foreign Office said two Britons were thought to have been on board the MK Airlines cargo freighter.

But the aircraft’s operator, based in Hartfield, East Sussex, said six Zimbabweans and one South African were on board.

Constable Joe Taplin, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, confirmed that all the crew had died in the accident at 3.52am local time (7.52am UK time).

“There were seven crew members on board and they all perished in the disaster,” he said.

Initial reports suggested the jet’s tail hit the runway during take-off and that the aircraft crashed near an industrial park.

Steve Anderson, of MK Airlines, said seven bodies were recovered from the wreckage this afternoon.

The airline would meet Boeing and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board tomorrow.

He said the crew were from South Africa and Zimbabwe.

But a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We think there is a possibility there might be two Britons on board. We are waiting for more news on that.”

The aircraft was on its way to Zaragoza, a centre for fish distribution in Spain, Mr Anderson said.

It had stopped to refuel and pick up fish supplies in Halifax and the weather at the time of the accident was good with clear skies.

Constable Taplin said there was an unknown explosion either within the aircraft or on the ground shortly after take-off.

“The plane came down about 500 metres from the end of the runway and the fuselage broke into several pieces,” he told PA News.

Fire crews battled for more than four hours because the aircraft was so heavily laden with fuel.

The second runway at Halifax airport was opened to limited air traffic but the wreckage of the cargo plane has been left for police investigations.

Constable Taplin said the incident was being treated as a criminal investigation until police could prove otherwise.

A spokesman for MK Airlines in Britain said a team from the company was flying to Nova Scotia today to assist with the disaster.

Mike LeRue, from the Halifax Fire Service, said the aircraft crashed into a quarry less than a mile from the end of the runway.

Witness Peter Lewis was dropping off his wife at the airport when he saw two explosions.

“As we were approaching we saw what I thought was heat lightning because I told everyone in the car that we’ve got heat lightning in the sky,” he told the local radio station.

“That was only a quick one followed by a second one that was bigger. And then we seen a very bright orange light, and I mean bright. It took up the whole sky.”

MK Airlines was set up in 1990 and operates scheduled and non-scheduled cargo flights around the world.

Although its planes are registered in Ghana, the company’s administrative centre is in the UK.

In November 2001, four Britons survived when an MK Airlines cargo plane crashed in Nigeria.

One member of the 13 crew was killed when the Boeing 747 came down near the airport at Port Harcourt, in the south-east of the country.

The cargo plane, chartered by Panalpina World Trans Ltd freight company, was flying to South America from Luxembourg.

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A terrible tragedy. My sympathies to their families.

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My thoughts and prayers go out to their families.

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Cargo plane crashes part of worrying trend in aviation - safety expert


Michael Tutton

Canadian Press

HALIFAX (CP) - The fiery airplane crash that killed seven crew in Halifax on Thursday is the latest of a worrying series of accidents involving cargo jets, says an aviation safety expert.

An eyewitness said it appeared the jet that crashed, an MK Airlines 747-200, was dragging its tail on the runway before it hit a series of towers at the edge of the airport, sheering off its huge tail.

The fuselage and wings of the aircraft flew over a rural side road, ripping through utility poles and trees before bursting into flames in a wooded area about 1,000 metres from the runway.

Alex Richman, president of an aviation safety software firm based in Halifax, said the crash Thursday was the fourth for MK Airlines in 12 years, though it was only the second one involving a fatality. All three previous crashes were in Nigeria.

"One crash is too many, and a history of four crashes in a small number of years is statistically very unusual," said Richman, who has researched air crashes since 1991.

Richman says there's a pressing need to examine the safety records of cargo airlines to see if regulations need to be tightened.

"The planes are older, the planes fly at night, the nature of the operation often involves flight crews that change frequently from job to job, and there is a high pressure to perform on time," said Richman, president of Halifax-based Algo Plus Consulting.

The National Transportation Safety Board, based in Washinton, D.C., has compiled figures that show there were 116 cargo plane crashes in the United States between January 1999 and January 2004.

No figures were immediately available for Canada.

The figures "set off alarm bells," said Richman.

The 747-200 jet that crashed at the Halifax International Airport was originally built in 1980 as a combination passenger and cargo-carrying plane. Two-thirds of the aircraft was for passengers, while the remainder was used for cargo.

At some point in the past 24 years, it was converted to a cargo-only plane.

The flight was carrying 53,000 kilograms of silver hake and lobster, according to Kim West, spokeswoman for Worldwide Aviation, a shipping firm based in Waverley, N.S.

There was also an unknown quantity of lawn tractors, tractor parts and computer gear picked up from a prior stop in Hartford, Conn.

The plane had also just refueled in Halifax, adding to its weight.

However, Ross Wilson, a spokesman for the airline, said the aircraft was not overloaded.

"At the moment, everything we're talking about is speculation," he said.

The maximum payload of a standard Boeing 747-200 cargo jet is 90,000 kilograms, said Jim Proulx, spokesman for the Boeing Company.

He was unable to confirm if a converted jet has the same maximum payload, though aviation web sites indicate some 747-200s can carry up to 110,000 kilograms.

Proulx also declined to comment on whether the crash of the MK Airlines 747 had any similarities to other crashes of the aging aircraft.


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