Russian aircraft under scrutiny after Algerian plane crash

Algeria is mourning the death of 257 people, mostly soldiers and their family members.
Thursday 12/04/2018
The father of a victim of an Algerian military plane crash mourns during his son’s funeral in Algiers, on April 12. (Reuters)
The father of a victim of an Algerian military plane crash mourns during his son’s funeral in Algiers, on April 12. (Reuters)

TUNIS - Algeria is mourning the death of 257 people, mostly soldiers and their family members, after the worst aviation tragedy in the country’s history. The crash of a Soviet Ilyushin Il-76 military plane occurred April 11 near the Boufarik airbase outside of Algiers, killing all passengers on board.

Messages of condolences immediately poured in from across the country.

“This tragedy is not only (felt by) the military institution and the relatives of the victims. It is the whole of Algeria that has lost dozens of its devoted and valiant sons,” read one comment on social media.

Rescuers are seen around the wreckage of an Algerian army plane which crashed near the Boufarik airbase from where the plane had taken off, on April 11. (AFP)
Rescuers are seen around the wreckage of an Algerian army plane which crashed near the Boufarik airbase from where the plane had taken off, on April 11. (AFP)

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared three days of national mourning and ordered prayers said for the deceased at mosques throughout the country.

World leaders also sent messages of condolences but there was no show of support from Morocco, which said Sahrawi guerrilla fighters training with Algerian military officers were among the crash victims.

Moroccan website Le 360.ma, which is close to the royal palace, wrote that “the crash will cause Algiers and its leaders embarrassment in the eyes of the public at home and abroad.”

“The accident clearly unveiled the policy followed by El Mouradia Palace regarding the issue of the Western Sahara,” it added, referring to Algeria’s presidential palace.

The Polisario Front, a rebel group seeking independence in Western Sahara, declared seven days of mourning for the at least 30 Sahrawis it said were on the flight. Many of them were thought to have been travelling to Tindouf, a city bordering the disputed Western Sahara territory that is home to Sahrawi refugees as well as an Algerian military base. The plane was to stop there before heading to Bechar, the site of another Algerian base.

Algerian media reported that “Sahrawi patients” were among the crash victims but the government did not mention the plane’s scheduled stop in Tindouf.

Algerian Deputy Defence Minister General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who cut short a military inspection near the Moroccan border to return to Algiers, ordered an investigation into the crash, at least the eighth regarding an aircraft to have taken place since 2012.

Many of the crashes were of Russian military aircraft and maintenance. The April 11 crash involved an Il-76, which Algeria acquired in the 1980s. The multipurpose plane is widely used in Asia and Africa, including as an aerial refuelling tanker or command centre.

In 2014, 74 soldiers died when a plane crashed into the Fortas Mountains near the town of Oum el-Bouaghi, 420km from Algiers.

Algerian security analyst Maheni Makhlouf said there was a pressing need to re-evaluate aviation security standards.

“Without a doubt, the circumstances of the accident will be debated in the coming days,” Makhlouf said, adding that this would include issues of “aviation security, the state of the National Popular Army’s fleet, its age, the conditions of the maintenance of jets (and) the transport of troops.”

Algeria media hailed the pilot of the plane, Captain Samil Doussane, 46, as a hero for steering the plane away from nearby homes.

“He avoided a human tragedy of larger scale,” Algerie Patriotique newspaper said.