Bangui Red Cross volunteers rescue three in air crash

Published: 8 July 2002 0:00 CET

Thanks to their immediate action on site, Central African Red Cross volunteers were able to rescue three people from the wreckage of a cargo plane that crashed at midday in a residential area of the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, on July 4. One did not survive.

Still under the shock of what he had witnessed, François Farra Frond, President of the Central African Red Cross (CARC) described the scene. "Fifteen minutes after the accident, our volunteers began searching through the rubble. They quickly pulled out three survivors and a dozen bodies. The plane's flight engineer had partially dug himself out from underneath a piece of rubble and was crying out 'I am here, I am here'. A woman and her young child were also found alive. We took them to hospital."

According to the Central African Red Cross, the crash left 27 dead (most of them from Chad) and two survivors, the flight engineer and a woman - her child did not survive.

The Red Cross is currently in the process of arranging temporary shelter for eight families (47 people) whose homes were destroyed in the crash. They are erecting tents for them and will provide the families with blankets, mattresses, kitchen utensils, soap and water purification products.

The Red Cross mobilization happened within minutes of the disaster. According to François Farra Frond, two volunteers, who were in the neighbourhood, saw the plane come down and crash. They were able to immediately alert police and firemen, as well as the Red Cross headquarters and hospitals.

With only one vehicle in working condition and no equipment, the Central African Red Cross asked the ICRC's Bangui delegation for help. The ICRC provided fuel for the vehicle, as well as gloves, nose masks and body bags. ICRC vehicles were also used to evacuate bodies to the morgue. Hospitals rushed ambulances to the scene to evacuate the injured, even though hospital staff were on strike.

"We have no heavy equipment and the volunteers were digging with what they could find, wearing their gloves", Mr. Farra Frond explains. "We called in local blacksmiths to cut up the plane carcass. It was horrible. It was very, very difficult. There were bones and body parts everywhere. At the end of the day, we pulled out 23 bodies and four more the next day." A total of 40 Red Cross volunteers were mobilized to look for survivors, pull bodies out of the rubble, help in idenfying corpses, transport bodies to the morgue and accompany them to the airport to be flown home to Rwanda, Tchad and Uganda.

Miraculously, no-one was hurt on the ground. People saw the plane coming down and had time to flee. Mr. Farra Frond is still very concerned about one of the motors, partially buried in the mud. Volunteers say they heard a woman cry out from underneath, but they could not do anything. "We need some heavy machinery to lift it and check if there is anyone there", he says."