A Russian-built cargo plane crashed Wednesday in South Sudan, killing dozens of people on board and possibly more on the ground.
The Antonov-12 B turboprop plane had just left Juba International Airport in the country’s capital city and crashed in a farming community, about a half-mile from the runway.
Fatalities continue to mount, according to the South Sudan Civil Aviation Authority, with witnesses reported seeing up to 41 people dead. One of the few survivors appears to be a 14-month-old girl.
First responders, some wearing muddied white hazardous materials suits and masks, carried the dead and injured away on stretchers.
The Asia Airways plane was torn apart, leaving debris dispersed near the crash site on an island along the White Nile River’s eastern bank.
The plane was heading to the oil fields of Paloch, north of Juba, authorities said. The majority of people on board were believed to be oil workers.
Ateny Wek Ateny, a presidential spokesman, told Reuters most people aboard the flight were South Sudanese nationals. At least six people on board were foreign crew members, including five Armenians and one Russian.
Stephen Warikozi said that the crash site has been secured and that crews are working to recover the plane’s black box.
South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is in the midst of a brutal and drawn-out civil war, which began shortly after the country formed in 2011. The conflict is largely driven by tribal allegiances and is threatening to lead to widespread famine, as farmers and cattlemen flee their villages.
The plane is the second Russian aircraft to go down this week.
In Egypt, investigators are still sifting through clues left from Saturday’s crash of Metrojet Flight 9268, which was heading from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, Russia when it went down, killing the 224 passengers on board.
On Wednesday, a group claiming to be the Egyptian wing of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the crash in Egypt and indicated it was in response to the increase in Russian air strikes in Syria. Egyptian and Russian authorities denied the group's involvement.
While the investigation is ongoing, new evidence suggests the Russian aircraft’s tail may have detached mid-air. A US satellite image also captured a wave of heat emanating from the craft just before it went down.
Experts have said the ISIS affiliate probably does not have the technology to strike a jet at 30,000 feet, Reuters reported.
Russian officials say the plane likely broke up while still in flight - given the size of the debris field. The Egyptian aviation minister said local reports about unusual sounds heard before the crash on a black box voice recorder were unfounded.
“This is all speculation,” said Hossam Kemal, the minister. “There is nothing definitive until the investigation commission completes its probe.”