CHARLESVILLE, Liberia (AP) — Eleven bodies were pulled from the wreckage of a military plane that crashed in Liberia, with Guinea's army chief of staff and top military officers among its passengers, officials said Monday.
The military officers were on their way to attend Liberia's Armed Forces Day celebrations, when the plane went down between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. in Charlesville, near Liberia's largest airport and some 45 kilometers (28 miles) south of Monrovia, the capital.
"At 7:09 a.m., air traffic control cleared the flight to land at Roberts International Airport. That was the last known contact from the crew," said a statement released by Liberian airport authorities.
The grief-stricken residents of Charlesville stood with their arms folded in shock and disbelief among the smoking wreckage as a United Nations truck attempted to pull at the plane's tire — the only whole remnant from the CASA Aircraft CN-235.
"We saw the airplane. The plane actually exploded; the back tip of the plane was just smoking, and they (passengers) were trying to scramble to go to the front of the plane, but there was nothing for them to knock the window open with," said MacDella Cooper who was among a number of residents nearby who ran to the crash site not far from a residential area and among palm trees.
"The passengers on the plane were screaming 'help'! help'! But nobody was around," she said. "A few minutes later, there was a big explosion, and that caused them to all perish, but they were alive upon landing."
Guinea's Army Chief of Staff Gen. Souleymane Kelefa Diallo was among the dead. Guinea's ministry of defense said that six members of Guinea's military delegation and five crew members were killed in the crash.
"I have the profound regret of informing the people of Guinea of the tragic military plane accident that happened this Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 around 7:30 a.m. in Liberia," Guinea's presidency said in a statement through its ministry of defense. "This accident cut short the lives of six members of the delegation led by Gen. Souleymane Kelefa Diallo."
The charred bodies of the victims were deposited at the Du-Side hospital, run by the Firestone Rubber Plantation company, near the airport.
Liberian officials said the rescue efforts were ongoing.
Guinea called for three days of mourning. Gen. Namory Traore has been appointed the interim army chief of staff, said a statement from the office of President Alpha Conde.
On Monday afternoon Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited the crash site, located just 3 miles from the airport. At a ceremony earlier in the day Sirleaf called for a moment of silence for those involved in the crash and declared Tuesday a day of mourning.
The Roberts International Airport remained open Monday with flights including one from Kenya Airways flying over the crash scene to land.
Diallo reported from Conakry, Guinea.