Apr 16, 2008 GOMA, Congo
A hand reached out from beneath the smoldering, crushed seat. Marybeth Mosier grabbed it and pulled, but she couldn't help the burning man trapped inside the wrecked jetliner.
Mosier crawled from the smoke-filled aircraft with her husband and 3-year-old son, reaching safety through a hole other passengers had smashed in the plane's side. Her 14-year-old daughter escaped by wriggling through another crack in the fuselage.
Most of the 79 passengers survived Tuesday when the DC-9 jet careered off the runway into a crowded market. But 40 people were killed and more than 110 were injured.
"He was burning, and I tried to pull him up," Mosier told The Associated Press at a hospital in Goma, recounting how she saw the man in flames struggling to escape as black smoke billowed through the cabin and screaming passengers rushed for any exit.
"There were so many people pushing," the 51-year-old native of Dodge Center, Minn., said Wednesday. "I thought this man was so badly burned and I couldn't block the way, so I climbed over the tops of the seats," she said.
It is unclear if the man Mosier tried to help died.
The tales of death -- and seemingly miraculous survival -- underscore the dangers of air travel in Congo, which has had more fatal plane crashes than any other African nation since 1945, according to the Aviation Safety Network. The desperately poor country is also struggling to emerge from a 1998-2002 civil war.
The DC-9 crashed after failing to lift off in the eastern town of Goma, ramming through an airport fence and into rows of wooden houses and cement shops selling sugar, avocados, flour and fuel. Many homes and shops were packed with people taking shelter from an earlier downpour.
It was unclear what caused the crash, but passengers and officials said the plane had been delayed briefly by rain, then apparently blew a tire and went out of control. Several witnesses said there was an explosion after the crash.
Both of the planes' black boxes have been recovered and technicians were working to decode the information, the regional governor said.
The wreckage was still smoking Wednesday as U.N. peacekeepers, aid workers and civilians went over the debris. Women's sandals, bolts of purple and yellow cloth and other remnants of life were scattered among the aircraft's twisted remains.
Regional Gov. Julien Mpaluku said 40 people died and more than 110 were injured.
An airline official said most of the 79 passengers on the plane survived. Transport Minister Charles Mwando Nsimba said two of the dead were passengers and the rest of the victims had been on the ground.
Nsimba said the death toll could rise. "We have to take into account the fact that there are bodies still trapped under the rubble," he said.
Annemarie Mulotwa, 19, who was among hundreds of people gathered outside the morgue in Goma, leaned against a wall and wept for her young nephew, Kikuni.
"I saw his body inside, he is dead, he was burned," Mulotwa said, covering her face with her hands. "He was 12 years old, he was only in primary school. He wasn't even on the plane."
Mary Rose Kiza, who watched as her 15-year-old son ran out of a shop, his clothes and body on fire, said she does not know if her three other sons are alive.
"What have I done to God to deserve this?" she wailed outside the morgue, after leaving a hospital bed where she was treated for back injuries.
Her 15-year-old son, Safari, survived with severe burns, Kiza said.
Mosier, a Christian missionary who has lived in Tanzania for eight years, knows how lucky she is. Her daughter, 14-year-old April, clambered out of the plane through a broken wall.
"I saw a crack in the plane and I tried to get through it; I just ripped it with my hands," April said. "I was wriggling and someone pushed me through from behind and I was out."
"I just feel so sorry for these people," Mosier said, cradling 3-year-old son Andrew, who was adopted as a baby from Tanzania. Half his small body was in a cast; he suffered a broken leg when she and her husband pulled him from a crumpled seat.
"There is no reason we should be alive," Mosier said.
The DC-9 was operated by the private Congolese company Hewa Bora Airways, which the European Union added last week to its blacklist of airlines banned from flying in the EU.
No reason was given for the ban, but air safety has long been lax in Congo, where officials are easily bribed and maintenance schedules are rare. According to an AP count, the country has suffered at least 20 other fatal plane crashes since 1996. Most of the aircraft are aging planes from the former Soviet Union.
John Eakin, an aviation safety consultant and the president of U.S.-based Air Data Research, said some African airports have short runways, meaning they lack space that can sometimes offer added safety.
A 2002 volcanic eruption sent lava oozing onto the Goma runway, shortening it. Experts are looking at what role Goma's short runway played in Tuesday's crash.
Often "you don't have overruns or safety margins," Eakin said.
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