The death toll from Sunday’s plane crash in Tanzania has jumped to 19, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said, after the Precision Air flight with dozens of passengers aboard plunged into Lake Victoria while approaching the northwestern city of Bukoba.
“All Tanzanians are with you in mourning the 19 people who lost lives during this accident,” Majaliwa told a crowd after arriving at Bukoba airport, where the flight had been scheduled to land from financial capital Dar es Salaam.
Regional authorities earlier said that 26 survivors out of the 43 people on board flight PW 494 had been pulled to safety and taken to hospital in the lakeside city.
But Precision Air, a publicly-listed company which is Tanzania’s largest private carrier, said in a statement that 24 people had survived the accident, with an airline official telling AFP that the other two hospitalised patients were not aboard the plane to begin with.
“There are two people who were injured during rescue efforts who have been counted as survivors but they were not passengers,” he said on condition of anonymity.
The airline said it had dispatched rescuers and investigators to the scene and expressed its “deepest sympathies” over the accident, which occurred at around 08:53 am (0553 GMT) on Sunday.
The company said the aircraft was an ATR 42-500, manufactured by Toulouse-based Franco-Italian firm ATR, and had 39 passengers — including an infant — and four crew members on board.
Video footage broadcast on local media showed the plane largely submerged as rescuers, including fishermen, waded through water to bring people to safety.
Emergency workers attempted to lift the aircraft out of the water using ropes, assisted by cranes as residents also sought to help.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan expressed her condolences to those affected by the accident, saying: “We pray to god to help us.”
The disaster ranks among the deadliest plane crashes in the East African nation’s history.
The US embassy in Dar es Salaam released a statement, paying tribute to “the heroic efforts of first responders, especially ordinary citizens who helped rescue victims.”
The African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat also shared his condolences, as did the secretary general of the regional East African Community bloc, Peter Mathuki.
“Our hearts and prayers go to the families of passengers on-board a plane that crashed into Lake Victoria, with our full solidarity to the Government & people of #Tanzania,” Faki wrote on Twitter.
“The East African Community joins and sends our condolences to Mama Samia Suluhu Hassan, families and friends of all those who were affected by the Precision Air plane accident,” Mathuki said, also on Twitter.
Precision Air, which is partly owned by Kenya Airways, was founded in 1993 and operates domestic and regional flights as well as private charters to popular tourist destinations such as Serengeti National Park and the Zanzibar archipelago.
The accident comes five years after 11 people died when a plane belonging to safari company Coastal Aviation crashed in northern Tanzania.
In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi plunged six minutes after take-off into a field southeast of the Ethiopian capital, killing all 157 people on board.
The disaster, five months after a similar crash in Indonesia, triggered the global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX model of jet for 20 months, before it returned to service in late 2020.
In 2007, a Kenya Airways flight from the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan to Kenya’s capital Nairobi crashed into a swamp after take-off, killing all 114 passengers.
In 2000, another Kenya Airways flight from Abidjan to Nairobi crashed into the Atlantic Ocean minutes after take-off, killing 169 people while 10 survived.
A year earlier, a dozen people, including 10 US tourists, died in a plane crash in northern Tanzania while flying between Serengeti National Park and the Kilimanjaro airport.