By Ahmed Ali Amir
An Airbus A310-300 from Yemen with 153 people on board crashed into choppy seas as it tried to land in bad weather on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros Tuesday, officials said.
Two French military planes and a French ship left the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Reunion to search for the Yemenia aircraft that was carrying nationals from France and Comoros.
An official from the Yemeni state carrier said the plane had 142 passengers, including three infants, and 11 crew on board. It was flying from Sanaa to Moroni, the capital of the main island of the Comoros archipelago.
"We still do not have information about the reason behind the crash or survivors," Mohammad al-Sumairi, deputy general manager for Yemenia operations told Reuters.
"The weather conditions were rough; strong wind and high seas. The wind speed recorded on land at the airport was 61 km (38 miles) an hour. There could be other factors," he said.
It is the second Airbus to plunge into the sea this month. An Air France Airbus A330-200 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 people on board on June 1.
In 1996, a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 also crashed into the sea off the Comoros islands in 1996, killing 125 of 175 passengers and crew.
"Two French military aircraft have left from the islands of Mayotte and Reunion to search the identified zone, and a French vessel has left Mayotte," said Hadji Madi Ali, director General of Moroni International Airport.
COMING INTO LAND
"The plane has crashed and we still don't know exactly where. We think it's in the area of Mitsamiouli," Comoros Vice-President Idi Nadhoim told Reuters from the airport.
Ibrahim Kassim, a representative from regional air security body ASECNA, said the plane had probably come down 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) from the coast, and civilian and military boats had set off to search the rough waters.
"We think the crash is somewhere along its landing approach," Kassim told Reuters. "The weather is really not very favourable. The sea is very rough."
ASECNA -- the Agency for Aviation Security and Navigation in Africa and Madagascar -- covers Francophone Africa.
The town of Mitsamiouli is on the main island Grande Comore.
Interior Minister Hamid Bourhane told Reuters the army had sent small speedboats to an area between the village of Ntsaoueni and the airport.
"At the moment we don't have any information about whether there are any survivors," he told Reuters.
A medical worker in Mitsamiouli said he had been called in.
"They have just called me to come to the hospital. They said a plane had crashed," he told Reuters.
A United Nations official at the airport, who declined to be named, said the control tower had received notification the plane was coming into land, and then lost contact with it.
Yemenia is 51 percent owned by the Yemeni government and 49 percent owned by the Saudi Arabian government. Its fleet includes two Airbus 330-200s, four Airbus 310-300s and four Boeing 737-800s, according to the company Web site.
The Comoros covers three small volcanic islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli, in the Mozambique channel, 300 km (190 miles) northwest of Madagascar and a similar distance east of the African mainland.