A Precision Air flight carrying 43 people crashed into Lake Victoria on Sunday while attempting to land at a nearby airport in Tanzania, according to the airline.
According to a local official, at least three people were killed, according to the state broadcaster in a tweet. The airline, which had earlier stated that 26 people had been rescued from the plane, provided no immediate confirmation.
Flight PW494, which departed from the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, “crash landed” into the lake as it was approaching the lakeside city of Bukoba, Precision Air added.
The cause was not immediately clear, but the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) said the incident took place amid storms and heavy rains.
A witness told TBC he saw the plane flying unsteadily as it approached the airport in poor visibility conditions, saying it took a turn for the airport but missed and went into the lake.
Video and pictures circulating on social media showed the plane almost fully submerged, with only its green and brown-coloured tail visible above the water line of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake.
Rescue boats were deployed, and emergency workers were continuing to pull trapped passengers from the plane, TBC said.
Footage from the broadcaster showed scores of residents standing along the shoreline and others wading into the shallow waters, as rescuers carried on with their efforts.
Rescue workers were in touch with the pilots in the cockpit and were attempting to pull the plane from the lake, Albert Chalamila, the chief administrator of Tanzania’s Kagera region told reporters.
TBC later quoted Chalamila as saying three bodies had been pulled from the aircraft.
The plane was carrying 39 passengers, including an infant, as well as four crew members, the airline said.
Precision Air, Tanzania’s largest privately owned airline, identified the aircraft as an ATR42-500. The Franco-Italian manufacturer ATR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Airline officials did not answer calls seeking further details about the incident.
Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan called for calm as the rescue operation continued.
“I have received with sadness the news of the accident involving Precision Air’s plane,” she tweeted. “Let’s be calm at this moment when rescuers are continuing with the rescue mission while praying to God to help us.”