CAIRO: Nine foreign peacekeepers, including French and Canadian soldiers, were killed Sunday when a French plane attached to the Sinai s multinational peacekeeping force crashed in a remote, mountainous area of the desert, the force s spokesman and police said.
Force spokesman Normand St. Pierre said as many as eight of the dead were French, but did not have exact figures. He said a higher than normal load of passengers and crew were aboard the aircraft at the time of the crash because it was on a training mission.
Capt. Mohammed Badr, a police officer in Sinai, said the nine who were killed included a mix of French and Canadian soldiers, but could not provide an exact breakdown. He said one of the plane s wings hit a car on its way down, but the driver escaped unharmed.
The crash occurred in the middle of the vast Sinai Peninsula near the village of El-Thamad, about 80 km southeast of a town called Nakhl, said Badr.
Ahmed Fadhel, the press officer at the French embassy in Cairo, had no immediate comment. The Defense Ministry in Paris also had no immediate comment.
Capt. Ihab Moheildin, the air control officer at Cairo airport, said the Canadian-made DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter plane took off in sunny, clear weather at 7:46 amlocal time from El Gorah base, the northern headquarters of the peacekeeping mission, on its way to St. Catherine s airport in the southern Sinai Peninsula.
He said the airport lost contact with the plane at 9:15 am after receiving a distress signal, indicating a possible mechanical failure. The plane then crashed into a mountain, according to Moheildin.
The peacekeeping force, officially called the Multinational Force & Observers, is an independent international organization created by Egypt and Israel to monitor their border in the Sinai after a 1979 peace deal.
It currently includes forces from the United States, France, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Fiji, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand and Uruguay, plus a few officers from Norway.
Ahmad Attallah, a truck driver who was driving about 40-kilometers south of Nakhl told The Associated Press he saw the plane on its way down.
I looked up and saw a small plane with a trail of flame and smoke flying at a low altitude and then it disappeared and I heard an explosion, he said.
St. Pierre said MFO personnel were en route to the scene of the accident. He said his information about the crash came from local Egyptian authorities who arrived at the scene of the wreckage, and who told force officials that there appeared to be no survivors.
St. Pierre said it was unclear how many people in all were aboard the Twin Otter, but other local, officials said nine died who were aboard – four crew and five passengers.
The locals said they saw a crash site and that everyone is dead. Our own people have not confirmed that, St. Pierre said.
He said he had no idea what caused the crash.
We lost air traffic communications, but as far as I know there was no report of problems, St. Pierre said.
Moheildin said the Egyptian government and the MFO have started an investigation into the crash. -Associated Press writers Ashraf Sweillam in the Sinai Peninsula and Jim Krane in Dubai contributed to this report.