An Algerian military transport plane slammed into a mountain on Tuesday in the country’s rugged eastern region, killing 77 people and leaving just one survivor, the Defence Ministry said.
Air traffic controllers lost radio and radar contact with the U.S.-built C-130 Hercules turboprop just before noon and dispatched helicopters to try to find it. The plane was discovered in pieces on Mount Fortas near the town of Ain Kercha, 50 km southeast of Constantine, the main city in eastern Algeria.
The plane was heading to Constantine from the southern Saharan city of Tamanrasset, which has a massive military presence due to its proximity to the country’s unstable southern borders. It was at least 24 years old, according to sales information supplied by its maker, Lockheed Martin.
The plane carried 74 passengers and four crew members, the military said in its statement, blaming poor weather for the crash.
Earlier in the day, Algerian government officials and Algerian state media had reported that the plane had 99 passengers, making for a much higher death toll.
The lone survivor a soldier suffered head injuries and was treated at a nearby military facility before being flown to the military hospital in Algiers, a retired Algerian intelligence officer told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
Civil defence officials at the snowy crash site said the plane broke into three parts and women and children were among the dead. Military transports in Algeria routinely carry not only soldiers but military families and sometimes even other civilians, if space is available.
Commander Farid Nechad, who was coordinating recovery efforts, told the AP that 55 bodies had been recovered so far but conditions at the crash site were difficult.
“Unfavorable weather conditions and storms accompanied by snow in the region were behind the crash,” the defense ministry said.
The presidency announced a three-day period of mourning, calling the soldiers who had died “martyrs for the country.”