Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has decreed three days of national mourning after 257 people were killed in the country’s worst plane crash, the state press service, Algerie Presse Service, reported on Wednesday.
“Following the crash of an air force Ilyushin today, killing 257 people, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared three days of national mourning starting today,” the statement said.
All the passengers were confirmed dead after the military transport aircraft crashed shortly after taking from the Boufarik airbase, 30km south of the capital, Algiers.
The defence ministry expressed condolences to families of the victims, and government officials observed a minute of silence on Wednesday.
The majority of the victims were members of the armed forces accompanied by their families, according to a defence ministry statement.
Ennahar TV quoted the ruling National Liberation Front party’s secretary-general as saying that 26 people onboard were Western Saharans, without specifying whether they belonged to the Polisario Front, a separatist movement in the contested Western Sahara – a territory also claimed by Morocco.
The cause of the crash remains unclear and an investigation has been opened.
“In this painful ordeal, the government members offer their deepest condolences to the families of the victims,” a cabinet statement said.
Algerie24, a local news website, said the plane was heading to the western Algerian city of Bechar.
Images posted on an Algerian website showed thick smoke billowing from the site of the crash, as several people rushed to help.
— Algérie24 (@Alg24net) April 11, 2018
The crash at Boufarik would be the worst in Algeria since 2003 when an Air Algerie jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Tamanrasset, killing 102 people.
In 2014, more than 70 off-duty military personnel and their family members were killed when a C-130 plane crashed into the Djebel Fertas mountain shortly before it was to land in the northern city of Constantine.
In December 2012, two military jets conducting routine training operations collided in midair near Tlemcen, in Algeria’s northwest, killing the pilots of both planes.
A month earlier, a twin-turboprop CASA C-295 military transport aircraft, which was carrying a cargo of paper for the printing of banknotes in Algeria, crashed in southern France.
That plane was carrying five soldiers and a representative of the Algerian central bank, none of whom survived.