By AOMAR OUALI and PAUL SCHEMM
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ An Algerian military transport plane slammed into a mountain Tuesday in the country’s rugged eastern region. A civil defense official said 102 people on board were killed but one person managed to survive.
The U.S.-built C-130 Hercules crashed about noon near the town of Ain Kercha, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Constantine, the main city in eastern Algeria. The military blamed poor weather for the crash.
Commander Farid Nechad, who is based in Algiers but was coordinating recovery efforts, told The Associated Press that 103 people including four crew had been on the plane. He said so far only 55 bodies had been found due to the difficult conditions at the crash site.
The lone survivor _ a soldier _ suffered head injuries and was treated at a nearby military facility before being flown to the military hospital in Algiers, the capital, a retired intelligence officer told the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Civil defense officials at the scene said the plane broke into three parts at the snowy crash site and women and children _ presumably from military families _ were among the dead.
Military transports in Algeria routinely carry not only soldiers but military families visiting the army bases. The plane had taken off from the southern Saharan city of Tamanrasset, which has a massive military presence due to its proximity to the country’s unstable southern borders, and was heading to Constantine.
Algerian military planes also take on other civilians if space is available.
Algerian officials have so far not given an official death toll for the crash.
The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, blamed the weather.
“Unfavorable weather conditions and storms accompanied by snow in the region were behind the crash,” the ministry said in a statement.
Winds in the area were 17 knots gusting to 28 knots with a visibility of 8 kilometers (5 miles) at the time, according to the aviation-safety.net website.
The presidency announced a three-day period of mourning, calling the soldiers who had died “martyrs for the country.”
Lockheed Martin’s hulking turboprop C-130 Hercules transport, born out of the experiences of the 1950-53 Korean War, has been used by air forces all over the world to help fight wars or save lives in humanitarian situations.
Lockheed Martin Corp. confirmed that it sold C-130s to Algeria from 1981 to 1990. The trade publication FlightGlobal reported that Algeria had 16 C-130H planes as of 2011.
Lockheed said if Algerian authorities asked, it will work with them to investigate Tuesday’s crash.
In other crashes involving similar planes, six people died in November 2012 when an Algerian Air Force C-130 crashed into a hillside in France, according to Aviation Safety Network’s database. In 2003, 10 people died when an Algerian Air Force C-130 crashed after an engine caught fire shortly after it took off from an air base near Boufarik, Algeria, according to the database.
Until Tuesday, the worst plane crash in Algerian history occurred in 2003, when 102 people were killed after a civilian airliner crashed at the end of the runway in Tamanrasset. There was also a single survivor in that crash.
Schemm reported from Rabat. Joshua Freed also contributed from Minneapolis.
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By AOMAR OUALI and PAUL SCHEMM