Military plane bursts into flames at Mogadishu airport

By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - An Ethiopian military aircraft carrying ammunition crash-landed at Mogadishu's international airport on Friday, bursting into flames and killing at least one crew member, airport staff and security officials said.

The plane got into trouble in the air and then missed the runway, crashing into the ground nearby.

Ethiopian troops are supporting Somalia's fight against al Qaeda-linked militants in the Horn of Africa country, although they are not part of an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force.

"We can hear explosions as it burns. It is burning like hell," said one security source at the airport shortly after the accident.

Yusuf Nur, an airport worker, said rounds of ammunition exploded in the fire.

A convoy of empty Somali military trucks had earlier been seen at the airport.

The fire, which was initially too intense for firefighting crews to tackle, was put out about two hours after the plane crashed. Witnesses said only a blackened shell remained.

Military aircraft regularly land at the city's airport, which also serves as the headquarters for the AU peacekeepers.

Authorities closed the airport, which has received a growing number of passenger flights over the past two years after African troops and Somali government forces flushed Islamist al Shabaab rebels from their bases in the capital.

Somalia's aviation record is among the worst on a continent which has a history of plane disasters. Until recently, the carcass of a Russian-made cargo plane lay tilted on its belly between the runway and passenger terminal of Mogadishu's airport.

Somalia is emerging from more than two decades of civil conflict. Security has improved in Mogadishu, which until mid-2011 was the frontline in the battle between government forces and militants, though the capital is still vulnerable to insurgent attacks.

(Writing by Richard Lough, editing by Elizabeth Piper)