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Gulf Air Jet Crashes Off Bahrain

August 23, 2000

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ A Gulf Air Airbus A320 on a flight from Cairo with 143 people on board crashed Wednesday night in the waters of the Persian Gulf after circling and trying to land in Bahrain.

U.S. Navy helicopters, destroyers and an ocean-going tug with a 10-ton crane joined the nighttime search and rescue effort, three or four miles off the northern coast of Bahrain, which is headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet..

Seventy bodies were recovered within the first hours after the crash and no survivors were found, said Bahraini Civil Defense Commander Brigadier Abdul-Rahman Bin Rashed Al Khalifa. He told state-run television that divers will begin a search for the flight’s voice cockpit and data recorders at first light.

An air traffic controller at the Bahrain airport, reached by telephone, described watching the plane circle the runway twice in an attempt to land, then on the third attempt plunge into the sea and explode into flames.

The controller, who spoke on condition his name not be used, saw no flames or sign of trouble before the crash and could not immediately explain why the plane circled before landing. He said the plane’s crew did not report anything out of the ordinary. He gave the time of the crash as 7:20 p.m. (12:20 p.m. EDT.)

``I could not believe my eyes,″ said Sobeih, 27, a resident of the nearby neighborhood of Al-Fodha who saw the crash. ``When I saw it heading toward the sea nose down, I screamed ’Oh my God, this thing is going down.‴

Sobhi and Riyadh, 24, another Al-Fodha resident said the plane flew over their heads at an unusually low altitude heading to the runway, but took a sharp turn toward the sea.

Both men, who would not give their full names, said the plane returned minutes later flying at an even lower altitude but headed straight to the sea where it crashed. They said unusual noises came from the plane’s engines, but they saw no flames.

``I was in a state of shock,″ said Riyadh.

The rescue effort was joined by the destroyers USS Oldendorf and USS Milius, both home ported at San Diego and part of the USS George Washington carrier battle group, which happened to be in port in Bahrain.

The Navy also sent two SH-60 Sea Hawk and one H-3 Sea King helicopters and the USNS Catawba, a tug used in recovering downed aircraft, to aid in the search and rescue mission, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Gulf Air said in a statement that 135 passengers and eight crewmembers were on board Flight GF072.

Weeping relatives of flight GF072 passengers pleaded with policemen who threw a security ring around the airport outside the capital, Manama. The airport controller later said the terminal was crowded with relatives of the passengers and crew and echoing with the sound of their cries.

A huge traffic jam swiftly built up the length of the five-mile road to the airport.

Two helicopters hovered low over the site of the crash with their floodlights switched on. Bodies retrieved from the scene were being ferried in ambulances to the Salmaniya hospital, the country’s largest, according to doctors.

Information Ministry officials had had no immediate word on the cause of the crash or confirmation of the number of people on board. Airbus A320 planes can seat up to 150 passengers, according to the manufacturer’s Web site.

In Cairo, only a handful of relatives of the passengers were at the airport in search of information on the fate of their loved ones and friends.

There were angry scenes when one relative tried to attack news cameramen and complained about the lack of information on the fate of the passengers. The Gulf Air office at the airport was closed.

Gulf Air is owned by Bahrain, the Gulf states of Oman and Qatar, as well as Abu Dhabi, the largest of seven sheikdoms making up the United Arab Emirates. Based in Bahrain, it flies to 53 international destinations.

In January, a Kenya Airways A-310 crashed into Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to Lagos, Nigeria. Ten people survived, and 169 died. An Air Inter Airbus A320 crashed in 1992 in Strasbourg, France, killing 87 people.


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