A 45-year-old survivor of a Tanzanian plane crash that left at least 19 people dead recalled his ordeal, as details emerge about bad weather conditions and heavy downpours that could have led the pilot astray.
“I don’t know how I survived, only God knows. I found myself helpless the moment the plane landed in the water. The cabin crew opened an emergency door where I climbed and stood on the plane body waiting for help,” Richard Komba told Anadolu Agency from his hospital bed where he is recuperating from shock.
According to him, the passengers who sat in the front aisles frantically struggled to flee the gushing water that perpetually poured into the plane.
“I consider myself very fortunate to be seated on the back of the plane and as soon as the cabin crew opened the emergency door, I pulled myself out,” he recalled.
When PrecisionAir flight number PW494 from Dar es Salam to Bukoba – a town nestled on the shores of Lake Victories – began to shake violently, Komba said he thought it was just turbulence. The pilot then announced the landing could be rather bumpy.
“All of a sudden the plane jerked dangerously once and then again,” he said. Moments later, as it approached the airport the plane crashed into Lake Victoria.
According to Komba, it was all well when the plane left the port city of Dar es Salaam around 6:15 a.m. local time (0300GMT).
“We traveled well but when we approached the lake regions the weather abruptly changed and the pilot alerted us through the plane’s intercom that the weather condition in the area was poor and it was heavily raining, he decided to go back to avoid that situation,” he said.
According to Komba, passengers waited for a long time before they were certain it was safe to climb on a wooden boat used by fishermen.
Komba who managed to crawl out of the submerging wreckage said he heard fellow passengers screaming for help.
24 people rescued
Officials said they have retrieved all bodies from the scene and the identification process is now underway.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said an independent inquiry will be conducted to establish whether some of the rescuers are among the dead.
Authorities have said at least 24 people have been rescued.
Albert Chalamila, a regional commissioner for Kagera, said the rescue team has succeeded in pulling the plane wreckage from shallow water. There were 43 people aboard the Precision Air plane, said Chalamila.
Bukoba Airport is located on the lake’s shore, and the crash site is just a few hundred meters from the runway, according to local officials.
Meanwhile, Hashimu Rashidi, 37, a fisherman who pulled seven people from the plane wreckage, said the rescue operation had been difficult due to a lack of proper equipment and special training.
“Although I was among the first people to rush to the accident area, I did not know what to do. The plane’s emergency door was flung open by the passengers who were terribly shocked and did not say anything, when more boats started to arrive. We decided to pull one passenger after another and put them in the boat,” Rashidi said.
“I personally pulled seven passengers including a woman who had been injured on her right leg,” he added.
Sitting on her hospital bed, visibly shocked Levina Theonest Lutinda with her one-year-old son, said she was among a few passengers who were the first to be rescued.
“I sincerely thank the fishermen who saved my life and my child’s life, I have much respect for them,” she told Anadolu Agency.