LUANDA, Angola (AP) -- A Russian-built plane exploded in a fireball shortly after takeoff in northern Angola, civil aviation officials said Wednesday. Local media reported that all 42 passengers and six crew members were killed.
Angola's Civil Aviation Authority confirmed the crash in a brief statement. The Antonov 26 aircraft burst into flames Tuesday at about 7:30 p.m., minutes after it left the town of Saurimo, 500 miles east of the Angolan capital of Luanda, Angolan Civil Aviation Director Branco Ferreira told state radio RNA.
The cause of the crash in a remote area was not immediately known, but previous air disasters here have been blamed on chronically poor aircraft maintenance or gunfire from the UNITA rebel group.
Saurimo is located in an area of thick jungle in a main diamond-mining region. The area has been a focus of fierce fighting between the army and UNITA, which have been engaged in a civil war since this Southwest African country's 1975 independence from Portugal.
Ferreira did not release any information on the number of casualties, but the Portuguese news agency Lusa said all 48 people on board had died. The identities of the passengers were not immediately available.
Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said the crew members were Ukrainian, though Ferreira said they were Russian. Their names were not immediately released.
Ferreira said the Angolan army was on its way to the crash site some 30 miles outside Saurimo.
The plane was flying a domestic route before the explosion. It left Luanda on Tuesday morning and was on a refueling stop at Saurimo before heading back to the capital at the end of the day, Ferreira said.
The plane, owned by Angolan company Ancargo, was chartered by an Angolan travel agency, Guicango, according to Lusa.
UNITA -- a Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola -- has in the past shot down civilian planes and private planes which they claim are supplying government troops. Also, several crashes in recent years have been blamed on inadequate aircraft maintenance at Luanda airport.
Dozens of Russian-made Antonov planes in Angola are used by private companies to charter passengers and cargo across the vast, southwest African country.
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