KINSHASA, Congo – The pilot of a jetliner that rammed into a bustling market killing at least 40 people had tried to stop the plane but couldn't because the runway was too short, survivors said Wednesday.
The DC-9 crashed Tuesday after failing to lift off, ramming through a fence dividing the short runway from a busy market district of shops. An airline official said most of those on board the plane had survived.
Barry Mosier, an American missionary from Minnesota who works in neighboring Tanzania and was onboard with his wife and two children, said the plane's front tire blew out just before the DC-9 went into the air.
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The pilot tried to stop the plane but couldn't because the runway was too short, Mosier said.
"Outside the plane we saw that flames were coming around the plane and we knew that it could blow up, explode at any time. So, we tried to fight our way to the front of the plane, as everyone was trying to do as the side doors did not open," Mosier told AP Television News.
"As we were doing this, pulling my son along, he got stuck between people and as we pulled him it broke his leg. But, by God's grace we all got out and we are alive."
Marybeth Mosier, a 51-year-old native of Dodge Center, Minn., said others were not so lucky.
"As we were rushing down the aisle, smoke was coming up through the floor. A man was trapped under the seats and he was burning," Mosier said at Goma's Heal Africa hospital.
She said she tried to pull him up. "But there were so many people pushing ... I thought this man was so badly hurt and I couldn't block the way. I climbed over the tops of the seats" to escape. It is unclear if the unidentified man Mosier tried to help died.
Dunia Sindani, a former pilot who was among the passengers, told a local radio station that the plane suffered a problem in one wheel — possibly a flat tire — and did not have enough power to lift off.
One of the plane's pilots reported that an engine died as the plane taxied down the runway, said Julien Mpaluku, the governor of the district. When the pilots tried to brake, a tire failed as well, he said.
The airport's runway was partially blocked and effectively shortened by lava from a 2002 volcanic eruption. The plane appeared to have burst through a fence separating the runway from a market district of wooden houses and cement shops where sugar, avocado, flour and fuel are sold.
Hundreds of people gathered at the morgue in Goma. Annemarie Mulotwa, 19, leaned against a wall and wept for her young nephew, Kikuni.
"I saw his body inside, he is dead, he was burned," Mulotwa said, covering her face with her hands. "He was 12 years old, he was only in primary school. He wasn't even on the plane."
Mary Rose Kiza, 33, said she watched as her 15-year-old son ran out of a shop, his clothes and body on fire. She does not know if her three other sons were alive.
"What have I done to God to deserve this?" she wailed outside the morgue, after leaving a hospital bed where she was treated for back injuries.
It was unclear if weather played a part in the crash. It had stopped raining about one hour before the DC-9 took off at about 3 p.m., residents said.
Crew members and U.N. troops managed to evacuate most of the 79 passengers before the plane caught fire, said Dirk Cramers, a spokesman for the private Congolese company Hewa Bora Airways.
Mpaluku said 40 people had died and more than 110 were injured.
Transport Minister Charles Mwando Nsimba warned that the death toll could rise.
"We have to take into account the fact that there are bodies still trapped under the rubble," he said, noting that only two of the bodies so far were of passengers.
The jetliner had been headed to the central city of Kisangani and then to the capital, Kinshasa, 700 miles to the west.
Congo, which is struggling to emerge from a 1998-2002 civil war, has experienced more fatal crashes since 1945 than any other African country, according to the nonprofit Aviation Safety Network.
Last week, the European Union added Hewa Bora to its list of airlines banned from flying in the EU. Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Alison Duquette said no Congolese airlines now fly into the U.S. although they are not banned from doing so.