257 people were killed when an Algerian military plane crashed shortly after taking off from an army airport in the north of the country, local officials confirmed.
Ministry said, in the deadliest of numerous air accidents involving aircraft from the country in recent years.
The Russian-built Ilyushin Il-76 transporter slammed into a field shortly after takeoff from a military base in Boufarik, about 15 miles southwest of Algiers. The victims included 26 members of Western Sahara’s Polisario independence movement, an official in Algeria’s governing F.L.N. party said.
Scores of ambulances and emergency workers rushed to the crash site, and video footage showed clouds of smoke billowing from an area near the runway. Strong winds fanned a fire that engulfed the wreckage, a security official, Lt. Adel Zghaimi, told state media.
Several witnesses told the private network Ennahar TV that they had seen flames coming from one engine as the plane was taking off. It lurched in the sky and crashed on one wing, one witness said.
Later, rescue workers lined up white body bags near the smoldering wreckage. Farouk Achour, a spokesman for the Algerian civil protection agency, said that 350 emergency workers were at the scene. Some bodies showed signs of “deep burns caused by the fuselage catching fire,” he told The Associated Press.
A Defense Ministry official, speaking by telephone, said at least two people had survived and were being treated in the hospital. The cause of the crash was unclear and under investigation, the Defense Ministry said in a statement, and state media reported that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had declared three days of mourning.
The plane was headed to Bechar, in the southwest of the country, but was scheduled to stop in Tindouf, an area on Algeria’s border with the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Algeria is a longtime backer of Polisario, the group that has been fighting since 1973 for independence for Western Sahara, which is controlled by Morocco.
Until Wednesday, the country’s deadliest accident was in July 2014, when an Air Algérie jetliner traveling from Burkina Faso to Algeria crashed in the desert in Mali, killing all 116 people on board, including 54 French citizens. A French investigation into the crash blamed pilot error.
In February of that year, an American-built C-130 Hercules transport plane of the Algerian military, carrying 78 personnel and their families crashed into a mountain in the northeastern province of Oum El Bouaghi during bad weather. One person survived.
Six people died when an Algerian Air Force C-130 crashed into a hillside in France in November 2012.