ALGIERS: A military aircraft carrying 103 people crashed in Algeria’s mountainous northeast on Tuesday, with just one survivor found in one of the country’s deadliest air disasters, security and emergency officials said.
The C-130 Hercules aircraft, which crashed in the Oum El Bouaghi region, was carrying 99 passengers — soldiers and their families — as well as four crew members, a security source told AFP.
Emergency services officials told public radio that they had found a sole survivor, who was suffering from head trauma.
By early evening, the emergency services had recovered 76 bodies from the crash site, including the remains of four women, public radio reported, after an extensive search and rescue operation was launched.
A security source had said earlier that all on board had perished.
The plane was flying from the desert garrison town of Tamanrasset in the deep south to the city of Constantine, 320 kilometres (200 miles) east of the capital, and lost contact with the control tower just as it was beginning its descent.
The aircraft slammed into Mount Fertas in the Oum El Bouaghi region at around midday (1100 GMT), state media quoted army spokesman Colonel Bouguern as saying.
“Very bad weather conditions, involving a storm and heavy snowfall, were behind the crash,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
Military and civilian personnel were deployed for the search operation, the ministry added, with hospitals in Constantine and nearby Ain M’Lila placed on alert to treat any survivors.
Nearly 250 rescue workers had reached the site of the crash, despite the difficulties caused by the mountainous terrain and wintry conditions.
Tamanrasset, where the flight had departed from, lies in the far south of Algeria, near the border with Mali, and is the main base for the country’s southern military operations.
Extra troops and equipment have been stationed there in recent months as part of efforts to beef up surveillance of Algeria’s frontiers with Mali and Libya, following a deadly hostage-taking by Islamist militants at a desert gas plant in January last year.
The city lies 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from Constantine, and was the site of the worst previous aviation disaster in Algeria, in March 2003.
In that accident, all but one of 103 people on board were killed when an Air Algerie passenger plane crashed on takeoff after one of its engines caught fire.
The sole survivor, a young Algerian soldier, was left in a critical condition.
In December 2012, two military jets conducting routine training operations collided in mid air near Tlemcen, in the northwest, killing the pilots of both planes.
A month earlier, a twin-turboprop CASA C-295 military transport aircraft, which was transporting a cargo of paper for the printing of banknotes in Algeria, crashed in southern France.
The plane was carrying five soldiers and a representative of the Algerian central bank, none of whom survived.