An Algerian military plane crashed near Algiers on Wednesday killing at least 257 people. The plane was carrying military personnel and their families along with some refugees when it crashed shortly after takeoff from the Boufarik air base, according to CNN.
The plane, a Russian-designed Ilyushin Il-76, was on route to Tindouf for a layover and was supposed to fly to Bashar when it crashed at 7:50 a.m. somewhere between Algiers, the Alegrian capital, and the city of Blida. With 257 confirmed dead, the crash is now considered one of the worst aviation disasters in the history of Algeria. It is also the worst plane crash in four years. In 2014, 298 people aboard a Malaysian airlines jet died after it was shot down while flying over Ukraine.
The North African nation’s Defense Ministry released a statement confirming the number of casualties. Among those who perished in the crash were 10 crew members and 247 passengers, which included 30 refugees, including women and children, from Western Sahara. The Algerian-backed group was supposedly connected to Polisario Front, a separatist organization seeking independence from Morocco, Washington Post reported. According to Al Jazeera, however, only 26 members of the Polisario Front were among the casualties.
Investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the plane crash. A number of witnesses claim they saw fire coming from the plane’s engine before takeoff. Others said they saw one of the wings engulfed in flames before it descended and crashed on a farmland.
It is yet to be determined if there are any survivors. A witness, however, reported seeing people jumping out of the plane before it crashed. At least five people were reported by Dzair TV, an Algerian television channel, to be in critical condition though it is yet to be determined if they were on the plane or on the ground when the crash happened.
In 2003, 102 people died after an Air Algerie jet crashed soon after taking off from Tamanrasset. Another military plane, a Hercules C-130, crashed into the Djebel Fertas mountain in 2014 killing 77 people including off-duty personnel and their families. An Air Algerie plane also crashed in Mali in the same year, killing 116 people.