Tragedy in Goma and a Change of Plans

While we were getting ready to go and waiting for the passengers in Goma, a bunch of kids came out to the plane.  I guess they were on a field trip.  I hope they were gone before the crash that happened later.

Kids on a field trip to the Goma airport


Yesterday we flew back to Kinshasa from Goma with a stop in Kisangani on the way.  I have come to dread stopping there because there tends to be a lot of hassles with the local officials there.  Twice I’ve spent two hours on the ground there while they looked through our documents to “make sure they are valid”.  We could have been in and out in fifteen minutes if I had just made a donation to the local “coffee fund”.  This last time, I sent the passengers in to the restaurant to at least get a cold drink while we waited, but we were ready to go within a half an hour, even including getting fuel.  That was a pleasant surprise and perhaps an Air Serv record for Kisangani. 

Some time while we were in the air, either between Goma and Kisangani or on the way to Kinshasa, tragedy struck in Goma.  A Congolese DC-9 (Hewa Bora) crashed while attempting to take off.  The plane went off the runway into the marketplace just south of the airport.  It is normally very crowded with people.  I doubt we will ever know exactly how many were killed there but it could easily be well into the hundreds.  Even the number of people on the plane seems to be a bit of a mystery.  One manifest apparently listed 153 passengers on the plane that was meant to carry far fewer than that.  

It is criminal (or should be) the way many of the air carriers operate around many parts of Africa.  Planes are almost always overloaded and rarely maintained to the minimum standards of most other countries.  Most planes will fly overloaded without much trouble (as the airlines here have proved), but if something goes bad they have little or no margin for safety. 

It’s easier to bribe their way out of a situation than it is to actually do things right.  This had been irritating to me as we seem to get more hassles from the CAA and other government agencies when we are actually doing things the right way.  This gives a real example of the effects of corruption.  Up until now, Hewa Bora was the only Congolese airline with (very limited) rights to fly into Europe.  Now there are none. 

The crash has changed my plans here.  We were meant to leave for South Africa on Friday to return the plane to the owner as the contract was done, but the crash has thoroughly spooked everyone.  The few NGO’s and international agencies that were brave enough to use the local airlines seem to be reconsidering now and there is demand for safe travel options.  So for now, the 1900 will stick around in the DRC for at least another two weeks, but it seems like it might be staying for longer. 


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4 Responses to “Tragedy in Goma and a Change of Plans”

  1. Laura Says:

    I’m so glad to see this post from you. I figured it wasn’t you in the plane crash when I saw it wasn’t Air Serv that owned the plane but it’s still good to get reassurance that you’re okay!!!

  2. Alfred Says:

    Hi Captain,

    It is a relief to know that you are doing fine. The news was shocking though!!! Hopefully people will change and be more responsible.

    Just to let you know, you are always in my prayers!!

    Take care,

  3. Auntie Says:

    We’re glad to hear that you are o.k. Nikolas has been asking when you are coming back. He misses you. So do we!

  4. MOM Says:

    Ps 91:1

    He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

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