A military transport aircraft crashed near Algeria's Boufarik Air Base on Wednesday morning, killing at least 257 people, according to Algeria's defense ministry.
The death toll of 26 members supported by Algeria of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, which Morocco considers its integral part. According to the Aviation Safety Network, the 2003 crash of an IL-76 of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard killed 275 people.
"After taking off, with the plane at a height of 150 meters I saw the fire on its wing". Smoke was still billowing hours after the crash. It then went down, avoiding a highway and crashing into a field. One eyewitness told local television: "We saw bodies burned".
The plane crash has been confirmed by the Defense Ministry as the worst air disaster in the history of Algeria, killing all 257 people on board including 10 crew members. There has been no official mention of anyone who survived or was wounded in the crash.
A line of body bags were seen lying near the wreckage before being taken to the Algerian army's central hospital for identification.
"We talked on the phone yesterday evening and he promised to call me again on arrival in Tindouf", he said.
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An investigation was immediately ordered to determine the cause of the crash that killed soldiers, their family members and a group of 30 people returning from hospital stays in the capital to refugee camps in the south.
Both the towns are on the Algerian-Morocco border.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered his condolences in a statement saying it is a tragedy that pains all of them and sadden them deep inside their hearts.
The U.N. has always been trying to broker a settlement for Western Sahara, which has been contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left.
Previous major air accidents in Algeria include an Air Algerie flight that crashed in northern Mali in July 2014 carrying 116 passengers and crew, almost half of them French, en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria.
In February 2014, 77 troops were killed when a C-130 Hercules aircraft belonging to the Algerian Air Force crashed in Oum El Bouaghi Province, 400 km east of Algiers.