An elderly and high-ranking cleric of the Orthodox Church, the Metropolitan of Central Africa Ignatius, was among the survivors of the plane that crashed when taking off from Goma airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"I had hardly finished my prayers when I heard a loud crash and I realized that the aircraft had fallen," said the 78-year-old metropolitan as he recounted his harrowing experiences during the crash on April 15 to the ANA-MPA on Wednesday.
The metropolitan, whose rank is roughly equivalent to that of a Catholic bishop, ministers to a vast area on the African continent and was returning to his base in Kinshasha after touring Rwanda and Burundi.
"Then I saw that a door in front of me had opened due to the impact and I crawled outside with another three people. I hardly had time to feel happy that I was saved though, because when I turned to look back the aircraft had burst into flames".
The DC-9 aircraft, carrying 79 passengers and six crew members on board, was forced to abort take-off due to poor weather conditions and ploughed into a market and residential area in the town of Goma. Dozens of people were killed and about 80 were injured, but it is unclear whether most of these were passengers or people on the ground.
The lucky cleric was in a seat just behind the cockpit, which was one of the few sections of the aircraft that was relatively unscathed in the crash. As he told the ANA-MPA, however, he had been expecting something like that to happen for some time.
"To tell the truth, I expected that I would become the victim of a plane crash at some point because I have to use airplanes all the time to cover the area under my care, which is roughly 20 times as big as Greece in size," he said, explaining that he had carried out over 300 plane trips in the five years since he first took over the Central Africa bishopric.
"I have reconciled myself with the idea of an accident. Not that I am particularly brave, because each time I get into a plane I feel like someone doomed to die," he added.
He nevertheless declared himself determined to continue flying and was actually preparing for to fly back to Kinshasha by plane just hours after the crash.
"My students at the Theological School are waiting for me and I cannot refuse my mission," he said simply.
Ignatius was chosen to be Metropolitan of Central Africa on March 14, 2003 by the late Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Petros VI - himself the victim of a helicopter crash in Greece just a few months later - and his bishopric covers the African states of Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of the Congo.
Source: Athens News Agency