Gulf Air flight crashes with 143 aboard; 55 bodies found

MANAMA, Bahrain, Aug. 23 -- A Gulf Air Airbus A320 flight carrying 143 people from Cairo, Egypt, to Bahrain crashed into the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, CNN reported. Fifty-five bodies were recovered from the water.

One American was aboard the flight, a U.S. State Department official said.


Flight 072 took off at 4:45 p.m. Cairo time. It was 4 miles north of Bahrain when it went down at night, Bahraini Information Ministry official Saeed al Bably told CNN. He said a rescue operation, in which the tiny nation's crown prince took part, had found wreckage of the plane. Officials were still searching for the voice data recorder, or black box, into the night.

The pilot had reported that the plane's engine was on fire, al Bably said.

The plane was carrying 135 passengers and a crew of eight. The independent satellite TV channel Al-Jazeerah, based in neighboring Qatar, reported the nationalities of most of the victims: 66 Egyptians, 34 Bahrainis, 12 Saudis, nine Palestinians, six from the United Arab Emirates, three Chinese, two Britons and one each from Australia, South Korea, Kuwait, Oman and Sudan.

A State Department official in Washington said Bahrain had informed the United States that a boarding pass from Flight 072 belonged to an American working as a diplomatic courier for the department.


A reporter from Bahraini television said bodies were seen floating in the water. CNN quoted Bahraini authorities as saying 55 bodies were recovered.

The plane reportedly burst into flames as it hit the water near Bahrain International Airport in the capital, Manama, CNN said. It was the plane's third attempt to land.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet was assisting in the rescue, Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman said. Three helicopters from the USS George Washington aircraft-carrier battle group, as well as two American destroyers -- the Oldendorf and the Milius -- and three smaller U.S. Navy ships were helping in what was still considered a search-and-rescue operation.

Bahrain plays host to a major U.S. military presence in the Middle East and hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Commander of Naval Forces Central Command.

CNN reported that scores of ambulances were seen rushing to the airport.

Donna Winton, of the U.S. Embassy in Manama, said the Bahraini coast guard and civil defense agency were heading the rescue effort and were being assisted by the U.S. Navy.

"Bodies have been recovered and no survivors have yet been found," Winton told CNN.

Gulf Air, which is based in Bahrain, is the national carrier of Bahrain, Oman and Qatar and part of the United Arab Emirates.


The Airbus Industrie Web site said the A320 family is the world's fastest-selling family of jetliners. The airplane was designed in the 1980s.

The plane was delivered to Gulf Air in September 1994. It had logged 17,000 hours, CNN said, and completed 14,000 cycles, each consisting of one takeoff and one landing.

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