BUKOBA, Tanzania: Grieving Tanzanians paid emotional tribute Monday to 19 people killed when a passenger plane plunged into Lake Victoria in the country's deadliest air crash in decades. The Precision Air flight from the financial capital Dar es Salaam crashed on Sunday morning while trying to land in the northwestern city of Bukoba.

Police blamed bad weather for the accident. Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa was among hundreds of people who gathered at Kaitaba Stadium in Bukoba, with Muslim and Christian clerics leading prayers for the dead as onlookers wiped away tears. The ceremony to hand over the bodies of the victims to their families was expected to take hours, with local broadcasters running live telecasts from the stadium in Kagera region.

Twenty-four survivors were plucked to safety out of the 43 people aboard flight PW 494, with investigators from Precision Air and the Tanzania Airports Authority arriving in the lakeside city on Sunday. Precision Air, a publicly listed company and Tanzania's largest private carrier, said the aircraft was an ATR 42-500, manufactured by Toulouse-based Franco-Italian firm ATR, and had 39 passengers-including an infant-and four crew members on board.

AFP journalists saw the plane largely submerged on Sunday as rescuers, including fishermen, waded through water to bring people to safety. Emergency workers attempted to lift the aircraft out of the water using ropes, assisted by cranes as residents also sought to help.

During the ceremony, Kagera regional commissioner Albert Chalamila singled out the "great role" played by volunteers, giving one million Tanzanian shillings ($430) to a fisherman who was hospitalised after sustaining injuries during the rescue effort.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Monday also hailed emergency workers and volunteers for acting quickly to save lives. "I congratulate those who participated in the rescue, including the people of Bukoba," she said on Twitter. "I pray for the deceased to rest in peace and for the injured to recover quickly."

Anger over rescue effort

The accident has sparked anger among many Tanzanians over the government's handling of the rescue effort. "We will... improve the government response to such accidents in partnership with the private sector," Defence Minister Innocent Bashungwa said at the ceremony.

"The accident investigations are still ongoing and I would like to ask the public to remain calm for now," Transport Minister Makame Mbarawa added. Precision Air, which is partly owned by Kenya Airways, was founded in 1993 and operates domestic and regional flights as well as private charters to popular tourist destinations such as Serengeti National Park and the Zanzibar archipelago.

The accident comes five years after 11 people died when a plane belonging to safari company Coastal Aviation crashed in northern Tanzania. In 1999, a dozen people, including 10 US tourists, died in a plane crash in northern Tanzania while flying between Serengeti National Park and Kilimanjaro airport. - AFP