The 1996 Air Africa crash occurred on 8 January when an overloaded Air Africa Antonov An-32B aircraft, wet leased from Moscow Airways and bound for Kahemba Airport, overshot the runway at N'Dolo Airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo after failing to take off and plowed into Kinshasa's Simbazikita street market. Though four of the aircraft's six crew survived, 225 fatalities and around 253 serious injuries occurred on the ground. This is the largest number of non-passenger ground fatalities caused by the accidental crash of an aircraft.
After decades of conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, the air transport business is complex and often illegal. As Johan Peleman explained:
The relationship between the charterers, who operate the plane, the shipping agent who organises the delivery for his clients and the company that actually owns the plane, is often very complex. This makes it difficult to see which of the contracting parties is actually responsible for the illegal aspects of the transactions. The Antonov that crashed in Kinshasa in January 1996 was operated by African Air. The company had rented the plane and crew from Scibe CMMJ, the company of Bemba Saolona. Scibe's Belgium based sales agent had leased the plane to the company in Zaïre. The Belgian company in turn had contracted with Moscow Airways.
It has been reported that this flight was carrying weapons to UNITA:
Scibe Airlift, an airline owned by Bemba Saolona and (at least in 1985) Mobutu himself (Forbes, 18 November 1985), was also found to be transporting arms to UNITA when, in January 1996, an Antonov 32 crashed on take-off from Kinshasa en route to Angola, killing an estimated 370 people (Agence France Presse, January 10, 1996). The aircraft and crew, chartered by African Air from Scibe, had, in turn, been leased from Moscow Airways through Scibe's sales agent, Scibe CMMJ, in Oostende (Washington Post, 21 March 1997).
While attempting to take off fully fueled and overloaded from N'Dolo Airport's short runway, the An-32B did not achieve sufficient speed to bring its nose up, yet began to lift. It crashed into the open-air Simbazikita produce market, full of shacks, pedestrians, and cars and its full fuel load ignited. The number of casualties cited varies from 225 (per the manslaughter charges) to 348.
The first injured went to the Mama Yemo Hospital (now Kinshasa General Hospital), which was quickly overwhelmed. Two other hospitals took the additional victims.
Mobutu and Saolona both attended the funeral on 10 January 1996 at the Protestant Cathédrale du Centenaire.
The Russian pilots, Nicolai Kazarin and Andrei Gouskov, were charged and convicted of manslaughter, each receiving the maximum two-year sentence. At trial, they admitted they were using borrowed clearance papers from Scibe Airlift, that they knew the flight was illegal, and that the flight was actually bound for Angola. Scibe Airlift and African Air paid fines of US$1.4 million to the families and the injured.
The underlying hazards of overloaded aircraft overflying densely populated areas were not addressed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and on 4 October 2007 a virtual repeat occurred in the 2007 Africa One Antonov An-26 crash at Ndjili International Airport.