AKOURE, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Government officials confirmed the deaths of the U.N. envoy to Angola and all seven other people aboard a plane that crashed in dense forest and swamp east of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital.
The envoy, Alioune Blondin Beye of Mali, and seven others were killed when the small charter plane crashed Friday night shortly before it was scheduled to land at Abidjan international airport, the Ivory Coast government said in a statement late Sunday.
Beye’s ``death is a great loss not only for Africa, but the international civil service,″ Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Soldiers hacked their way through miles of mud, water and thick forest to reach the crash site Sunday, finding bodies mutilated beyond recognition. Another group of soldiers arrived by helicopter.
Pieces of the aircraft smoldered in the grass and bushes more than 36 hours after the plane went down on land surrounded by mangrove swamps 35 miles east of Abidjan. Poor telephone communications and difficulties in finding their way through the dense forests and marshlands prevented rescuers from reaching the aircraft until Sunday.
The number of people on board the aircraft had earlier been disputed, with Ivorian authorities saying seven or eight, while aviation officials in Togo had said seven. The Ivory Coast government statement said there were eight.
Searchers recovered six personal identity documents, including one belonging to 59-year-old Beye, a well-respected diplomat credited with leading U.N. peace efforts in Angola, which has suffered from an intermittent civil war since independence from Portugal in 1975.
Aside from Beye, five passengers were believed to be members of the U.N. Observer Mission in Angola; the other two people aboard were pilots of the South African-registered charter plane.
The other five documents found bore the names of Moktar Gueye of Senegal; Beadegar Dessandde of Chad; Koffi Adoyi, a foreign ministry official for Togo; and two people of unidentified nationality _ Jason McNeill and Ibikunle Williams.
Friday’s crash broke the plane into two large, mangled pieces and many smaller parts. On Sunday, a black carry-on bag sat to the side, intact except for a burst zipper spilling out a calculator, eye drops and a short-wave radio.
The plane left Lome in the West African nation of Togo on Friday evening after Beye met with Togolese President Gnassigbe Eyadema in a bid to win support for the Angolan peace process.
News of the crash deeply shook people in Mali, where Beye _ a former university professor and Cabinet minister _ has been well-known for years.
``This is a crisis we’re living through,″ said Justice Minister Amidou Diabate, who had been a student of Beye’s while at university.
Beye mediated a 1994 peace pact but had threatened to resign last month, saying neither UNITA nor the Angolan government had the ``political will″ to fully comply with the accord.