x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

78 dead in Morocco military plane crash

C-130 military transport plane with 81 people on board crashed into a Moroccan mountain yesterday in bad weather, killing all but three.

RABAT // A C-130 military transport plane crashed into a Moroccan mountain yesterday in bad weather, killing 78 people, the state news agency said. It said there were three survivors.

The crash in a southern region close to the disputed Western Sahara was this country's deadliest in years.

The information minister, Khaled Naciri, told The Associated Press that the military believes 78 were killed but that searches are ongoing for all the bodies.

The Map news agency said all three survivors were seriously injured. It said the plane was carrying 60 members of the military, 12 civilians and nine crew members.

Quoting a Royal Armed Forces statement, the report said that the remains of only 42 people have been found so far. It was not immediately clear how the military determined that 78 were killed.

Map said the plane crashed around 9am local time 10 kilometres north-east of Guelmim in southern Morocco, as it prepared to land at the Guelmim military air base.

Map said the crash was "due to bad weather conditions", without elaborating.

Mr Naciri said the plane was en route from Dakhla, in the disputed Western Sahara, to Kinitra in northern Morocco, and making a stop in Guelmim.

Officials at the military hospital in Guelmim could not be reached.

Guelmim is more than 600km south-west of the capital Rabat, just north of the Western Sahara and a few dozen kilometres from the Atlantic Coast.

Morocco took over the mineral-rich Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1979. The Saharawi people want to establish the region as an independent state.

UN peacekeepers have been posted in the region since 1991, and the UN has demanded a referendum but Morocco has instead proposed wide-ranging autonomy for the estimated half a million people who live in Western Sahara's sparsely populated desert flatland.

The Guelmim region features contrasting desert, oasis and mountain landscapes with their valleys and gorges, part of the so-called Anti-Atlas, an extension of the Atlas mountain chain that runs through Morocco. The region also features a coastal zone known as the "White Beaches of Guelmim" with the beach in nearby Tan Tan.