NO fewer than 257 people, including Western Sahara refugees, were killed when a military plane crashed near Algeria ’ s capital on Wednesday , with witnesses saying they saw a wing catch fire shortly after the plane took off .
Dozens of firefighters, rescue workers and military officials worked around the blackened fuselage of the aircraft , which had been ripped open near its wings .
Reuters reports that bits of mangled and smouldering debris were scattered across the field near Boufarik airport southwest of Algiers where people were searching for bodies among the rubble .
Earlier TV images showed flames and smoke billowing from the site of the crash , the country’ s worst air disaster .
“ This morning at around 8 am an Ilyushin model military transport plane crashed directly after take – off in an agricultural field that was clear of residents, ” Major General Boualem Madi told state TV .
A line of white body bags could be seen on the ground next to the wreck of what media said was a Russian Ilyushin Il – 76 transport plane , part of which was still intact . Smoke was still billowing hours after the crash .
“ After taking off , with the plane at a height of 150 metres I saw the fire on its wing. The pilot avoided crashing on the road when he changed the flight path to the field , ” a witness , Abd El Karim , told the private Ennahar TV station .
Another witness said, “ We saw bodies burned. It is a real disaster . ”
A total of 257 people were killed , most of them military , the defence ministry said. Ten crew members and other people described as family members died , and a number of survivors were being treated at an army hospital , the ministry added.
The plane had been heading for Tindouf on the border with Western Sahara , Algeria ’ s defence ministry said.
One young man cried as he spoke to a local TV station about a relative who died in the crash .
“ We talked on the phone yesterday evening ( Tuesday ) and he promised to call me again on arrival in Tindouf , ” he said.