Five Armenian pilots flying a cargo plane in Congo died at the weekend when it crashed at Brazzaville airport, also killing around 30 other people.
News reports said the Russian-made Ilyushin-72 plane skidded off the runway and crashed into houses and a bar in the Congolese capital after it landed in a violent storm. Most of the victims were said to be local residents. The plane was flying in from the western port city of Pointe Noire carrying cars and other goods.
According to Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, five of the seven crew members killed in the crash, including Captain Varazdat Balasanian, were Armenian nationals. The ministry identified the four other Armenian victims as Ara Tovmasian, Tadevos Hovannisian, Andranik Gevorgian and Edgar Avetian. It said the Armenian Embassy in Egypt is now trying to arrange the repatriation of their bodies.
“All five pilots worked in Congo on a contractual basis,” Nelly Cherchinian, a spokeswoman for Armenia’s civil aviation authority, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Other sources said the pilots worked for an Armenian aviation company. Its name was not immediately known.
The Ilyushin-72 was reportedly registered with the Congolese company Aero-Service. Like many African countries, Congo has some of the worst air safety records in the world.
Armenian pilots have worked for domestic and foreign airlines carrying out flights in Africa and the Middle East ever since the Soviet collapse, which left many of them without permanent jobs. Four of them died when their Antonov-12 cargo plane crashed in Sudan in 2003.
Six other Armenian pilots, who worked for a little-known Yerevan-based carrier, were arrested in Equatorial Guinea in 2004 and spent more than a year in a notorious local jail on highly controversial coup charges they strongly denied.