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Crashed Russian plane ‘split open like an egg’ says Navy diver

The fuselage of the Ilyshin II 76 cargo plane which burst into flames and plowed into Lake Victoria near Entebbe on March 9, is ‘split wide open, like an egg’, says the commander of the US Navy diving-team which has recovered the flight recorder . After a month-long search and recovery effort, US service members have now completed diving operations in Lake Victoria and have turned over the information retrieved from the wreckage concerning the March 9 IL-76 aircraft crash to the Ugandan investigating authorities

“Divers were able to confirm the debris field, spread over a kilometer of the lake bed, and provided the coordinates to the CAA for their investigations. Divers located sections of both wings, parts of the fuselage, landing gear with four tires and four engines. ll of which were partly embedded into the silt, including the engines,” says Captain Corinne Jones, public affairs officer at HOA_US Africom command in Djibouti.

“We worked alongside Ugandan divers who had already located some of the wreckage before the US arrived in this multi-national recovery effort. The US divers mapped the entire wreckage field and marked the sites of the aircraft pieces and turned this information over to the Ugandan authorities.”

Lt. junior-grade Scott Bryant, the on-scene diving operations officer of the US combined joint task force for the Horn of Africa (of the US AFRICOM command), said it was the most difficult diving operation of his 19-year Navy creer. “The divers have to wade 5 metres into clouds of powdery mud to uncover parts of the wreckage”.

The team was not equipped to lift any of these heavy airplane wreck portions from the Ugandan lake, however. Said Captain Jones: “The Government of Uganda requested US assistance in recovering the black box and flight data information.”

This was a multinational recovery operation: The South African High Commissioner in Kampala, Uganda also is coordinating efforts to identify recovered remains through DNA-testing in South Africa. Four of the eleven male victims — two Russian aviators; a South African and an Indian — were still unidentified several weeks ago.

The cargo plane burst into flames before it dove into Lake Victoria shortly after taking off from Entebbe airport. Four Ugandan fishermen had to be rescued when the burning plane crashed into the water right next to their two wooden boats. Previous story see

Uganda Civil Aviation Affairs Department representative Mr. Ignie Igunduura had already said in an email earlier this month that until the flight-recorder can be brought to the surface and examined, they won’t be able to determine the exact cause of the crash. He has not responded to requests for comment today.

The contracted Soviet-era IL-76 was carrying tents and water purification units to Mogadishu in support of the African Union Peace Mission in Somalia. All 11 people on-board died after the freighter crashed shortly after takeoff from Entebbe International Airport.

Captain Jones wrote on the Africom website on March 31 2009 that ‘military personnel were using three types of sonar systems to search for the wreckage, as well as unmanned under water-vehicles and boat-towed systems.’ Basically they mapped the lake bottom floor near the crash site to locate the aircraft debris.

Bryant said there was no visibility: “… especially once you touched the bottom; a powder, like talcum powder, floats up everywhere and you could not see at all. Because of the wreckage, there are very sharp metal objects pointing everywhere and we had fishing nets to deal with.”

Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the world. The wreckage is 80 feet under water, buried in approximately 15 feet of silt and 6.8 miles from the closest pier…

Said Lt Col Peter Timothy, the CJTF-HOA mission commander: “We were serving as the eyes of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority and Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces.The divers were going down in search of information that help their investigations.

“We were working alongside Ugandan divers who had already located some of the wreckage before HOA arrived in this multi-national recovery effort.”

As targets were identified, buoys were dropped to identify the targets, wrote Capt Jones on the Africom website. Said Bryant: “It (the tail section) was very tall, and it was in the flight path, so we splashed divers on it and there it was.We also located portions of the fuselage that are not enclosed, the According to Bryant, the other three engines are sunk into the silt. “Most of the heavy stuff is underneath the silt. We found parts of the tail that are sunk and the divers had to dig five feet under,” he said.

The Government of Uganda requested US assistance in retrieving the black box and flight data information, if possible, and support in providing advisory and technical services to the accident investigation. US service members are in the Horn of Africa to build relationships with partner nations,” said RADM Anthony Kurta, CJTF-HOA Commander. “We work beside Ugandan military forces on a regular basis as part of our efforts to strengthen their own security capacity.”

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