YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Teams of rescuers and villagers combed thick tropical forest in southern Cameroon on Sunday for the wreckage of a Kenya Airways passenger plane which crashed after takeoff in the central African country, officials said.
The Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which was carrying 114 people from more than 20 countries, went missing on Saturday after leaving Douala airport bound for Nairobi in torrential rain. It was reported to have come down in thick jungle.
Military helicopters backed up by villagers on motorbikes had searched a swathe of the forest-covered terrain southwest of the capital Yaounde on Saturday.
But they failed to locate the plane, which initially set off from Ivory Coast, before darkness fell.
"The crisis committee ... has decided to set up several teams made up of villagers to continue the search throughout the night," Placide Ndobo, a local government official in the southern region, told Reuters.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said he had sent a high-level government team led by Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere to help the Cameroonian authorities find out what had happened to the plane.
"I wish to assure all that we have put in motion a mechanism to help establish the status of the Kenya Airways plane," Kibaki said in a statement.
Kenya Airways Group Managing Director Titus Naikuni said on Saturday the authorities in Cameroon had picked up an automatically generated distress signal from the area where the plane went missing.
Radar-equipped helicopters, including one sent by the French military from a base in neighbouring Gabon, were focusing on an area between three or four towns, a French diplomat in Cameroon said.
The aircraft, which was only six months old, was carrying 105 passengers and nine crew, including Africans, Chinese, Indians, Europeans and an American.
Kenya Airways said the Douala control tower had received a last message from the aircraft right after takeoff. It had been due to land in Nairobi at 6:15 a.m. on Saturday.
Kenya Airways has three 737-800s in its fleet and Naikuni said they had not decided whether to ground the others.
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