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18 October 2011

A light aircraft carrying 12 people crashed after takeoff and burst into flames in Botswana (14 October 2011)

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A light aircraft carrying 12 people crashed after takeoff and burst into flames in Botswana, killing the British pilot and seven tourists from France, Sweden and Britain, an official said Monday. The crash occurred Friday in the southern African nation's remote Okavango Delta, according to spokesman Modipe Nkwe of the Civil Aviation Authority. He said two French tourists and two Botswana citizens survived. The cause is under investigation, Nkwe said. His agency had issued a brief statement announcing the crash on Friday, with few details. It was unclear why it took three days to announce the fatalities. Britain and France confirmed they had citizens aboard the flight, but Sweden said it was still investigating the reports. The chartered Cessna 208, operated by local company Moremi Air, crashed shortly after takeoff from Xakanaka airfield in northern Botswana and was ablaze soon after. The plane had been headed for a luxury safari camp on Pom Pom island, a site in the heart of the delta that is famous for its birds and wildlife, including elephants. Moremi Air CEO Sue Smart said in a statement Monday that the company has grounded its entire fleet while investigations proceed. She said the pilot was the company's general manager and "our most seasoned pilot with over 12,000 hours of flying."

The seven tourists who perished were a British man, three French women, two Swedish women and a Swedish man, Nkwe said. At least some of the survivors were airlifted for medical care to Johannesburg in neighboring South Africa. Botswana's Monitor newspaper quoted one local survivor, vehicle inspector Bernard Lottering, as saying that after the aircraft crashed to the ground he kicked out a window and got out. As the plane caught fire, he managed to pull out his colleague and dragged two other passengers to safety, apparently the French. The paper said it interviewed Lottering on his hospital bed in Botswana. The paper also quoted Dr. Maxwell Mungisi, superintendent of Letsholathebe Hospital in Maun, the biggest town in the delta, as saying that the bodies of those who died were "burnt beyond recognition" and that only DNA tests could identify them. The paper also reported that rescuers had difficulty reaching the scene because of the rough terrain. France's Foreign Ministry said one French survivor remains hospitalized in Johannesburg with burns, though doctors say her life is not in danger. It said the other French survivor has returned home. Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that two British nationals died in the crash. It said that next of kin have been informed and provided with consular assistance, but declined to give further details. In Sweden, however, the Foreign Ministry said it has not yet been able to confirm the reports.