KINSHASA, Oct 4 (Reuters) A Russian-made cargo plane with 17 people on board crashed and exploded today in a crowded neighbourhood of Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, airport officials and witnesses said.
A United Nations spokesman said there were ''many dead''.
The Antonov aircraft belonging to Congolese airline Africa 1 came down on several shacks in the Kingasani neighbourhood near Ndili international airport, the sources said.
''There were 17 people on board,'' said airport protocol official Jean-Claude Bakongo, who said a major explosion followed the crash.
''I saw it fall in the Kingasani neighbourhood.'' Another airport security official who went to the crash site told Reuters that fire fighters were struggling to reach the wreckage in the shanty town.
''There are at least four houses burning, the airplane is burning ... There's a lot of smoke and flames, everybody in the houses must be dead,'' he said.
''People say the plane was overloaded.'' Air travel is notoriously dangerous in Congo. Ageing planes suffer from a lack of maintenance and spare parts but they are often the only way to transport people and goods across the vast African country slowly recovering from a 1998-2003 civil war.
Eight people were killed in early September when a cargo plane overshot the runway and caught fire while landing in the eastern Congolese town of Goma.
Congo, a country the size of West Europe with only a few hundred kilometres (miles) of paved roads, has one of Africa's worst air safety records and was dubbed an ''embarrasment'' by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) last year.
Congo houses the largest UN peacekeeping mission with more than 17,000 troops.
REUTERS JK PM1710