Bukoba (Tanzania): Mourners console each other at a stadium during a ceremony to hand over the bodies of the victims of a plane crash to their families. Nineteen people died when the plane crashed into Lake Victoria on Sunday—AFP
Bukoba (Tanzania): Mourners console each other at a stadium during a ceremony to hand over the bodies of the victims of a plane crash to their families. Nineteen people died when the plane crashed into Lake Victoria on Sunday—AFP

BUKOBA: Grieving Tanzanians paid emotional tribute on Monday to 19 people killed when a passenger plane plunged into Lake Victoria in the country’s deadliest air crash in decades.

The Precision Air flight from the financial capital Dar es Salaam crashed on Sunday morning while trying to land in the northwestern city of Bukoba. Police blamed bad weather for the accident in the Kagera region.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa was among hundreds of people who gathered at Kaitaba Stadium in Bukoba, with Muslim and Christian clerics leading prayers for the dead as onlookers wiped away tears.

The accident shocked Tanzanians, with local broadcasters running live coverage of an hours-long ceremony to hand over the bodies of the victims to their families.

Majaliwa said the government would pay for the funeral services for the victims in addition to providing one million Tanzanian shillings ($430) to their families.

Twenty-four survivors were plucked to safety out of the 43 people aboard flight PW 494, with investigators from Precision Air and the Tanzania Airports Authority arriving in the lakeside city on Sunday.

Precision Air, a publicly listed company and Tanzania’s largest private carrier, 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.

Journalists saw the plane largely submerged on Sunday 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 on Monday hailed emergency workers and volunteers for acting quickly to save lives.

“I congratulate those who participated in the rescue, including the people of Bukoba,” she said on Twitter. “I pray for the deceased to rest in peace and for the injured to recover quickly.”

Kagera regional commissioner Albert Chalamila singled out the “great role” played by volunteers, giving one million Tanzanian shillings to Majaliwa Jackson, a fisherman who was hospitalised after sustaining injuries during the rescue effort.

In an interview with local media from his hospital bed, the fisherman said he was among the first responders to the accident, which happened while he was drying fish by the lakeside. As he approached the aircraft, he saw people waving for help, he said.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2022

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