(Reuters) - A Congolese airliner crashed into a market district in the eastern city of Goma on Tuesday, killing at least 21 people on the ground, while the airline said most of the 79 passengers on board survived.
A local governor and the Congolese Red Cross had initially reported only six survivors and more than 70 dead after the Hewa Bora Airways McDonnell Douglas DC-9 ploughed into a crowded district of Goma, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern North Kivu Province.
But Dirk Cramers, marketing director of Hewa Bora, said the majority of the 79 passengers aboard the plane survived.
"With the help of the U.N., we were able to pull out almost all of the passengers before it ignited," Cramers told Reuters. He said all of the seven crew members had also survived.
Cramers put the confirmed death toll so far at 21, and said he believed all were killed on the ground in the Birere market district struck by the airliner when it failed to lift off.
North Kivu governor Julien Paluku, who earlier said six people aboard the plane survived the crash, later told Reuters 19 bodies had been recovered so far and 76 injured people were being treated in hospitals in Goma.
"The plane fell on a populated district," Paluku said, adding rescue teams were still working at the crash site. He said it was too early to give a final death toll.
The crash was the latest aviation disaster to hit Congo, a vast central African state the size of western Europe which is still recovering from a war and has one of the world's worst air safety records.