CAIRO — Conflicting reports emerged Thursday over whether mechanical problems may have played a role in the crash of a South Korean DC-10 jetliner while attempting to land at the airport in Tripoli, Libya. At least 71 of the 199 people aboard were killed.
Dense fog early Thursday, which forced another airliner to reroute its flight to nearby Malta only an hour before the crash, could have been another contributing factor, Libyan officials said.
It was the second crash involving a DC-10 in little over a week. On July 19, a United Airlines DC-10 crash landed in Sioux City, Iowa, after losing its tail engine and its hydraulic systems in flight. That crash, in which 111 people died, was the latest of several disasters involving mechanical or structural failures on aging civilian aircraft over the past few years.
In Seoul, Korean Air officials said the DC-10 that crashed had been purchased in 1977.
Airport authorities said Korean Air Flight 803 from Seoul undershot the runway at 7:30 a.m. Thursday. They said they lost contact with the plane about 15 minutes before the crash. During the landing, the jet slammed into a house and burst into flames. Four people were killed on the ground.
Mustapha Maghrebi, head of the Libyan investigating panel, said it was not known whether pilot error or mechanical failure caused the crash, Associated Press reported.
He said the pilot, who was among the survivors, told authorities that he was probably wrong to try to land with poor visibility.
The airline earlier quoted pilot Kim Ho Jung, 54, as saying, "The airport was shrouded in a dense fog and visibility was poor when I approached," AP reported.
A Soviet Aeroflot airliner, coming in an hour before the crash, was diverted to Malta because of the fog, airport officials said.
The official Libyan news agency Jana said the plane came down about a mile short of the runway, grazing the top of one house, plowing through another and hitting several cars before breaking apart and bursting into flames in an olive grove.
Most of the passengers were South Korean workers employed on construction projects in Libya. However, 10 foreigners--seven Libyans and three Japanese--were also on board, Jana said.
Television footage of the disaster site showed that the plane broke into three pieces upon impact, with the tail section wedged into the rubble of one of the two homes struck by the airliner before it exploded in flames.
Airline officials said that the flight, which originated in Seoul and made stops in Bangkok and Jidda, Saudi Arabia, carried 181 passengers along with 18 crew members.
Thursday's crash was the latest of several recent disasters for Korean Air, formerly known as Korean Air Lines (KAL).
On Nov. 29, 1987, a Korean Air jet exploded over the Andaman Sea near Myanmar, formerly Burma. A North Korean terrorist later confessed to having placed a bomb on the aircraft.
On Sept. 1, 1983, Soviet fighters shot down KAL Flight 007 after it flew into a sensitive Soviet military airspace. All 269 people aboard were killed.