By EUGENE HOSHIKO, Associated Press Writer Eugene Hoshiko, Associated Press Writer
SHANGHAI – A Zimbabwe-registered cargo plane crashed in flames during takeoff from Shanghai's main airport Saturday, killing three American crew members and injuring four others on board.
The accident closed two runways at the Pudong airport in China's largest city for several hours. More than 30 international flights were delayed, leaving about 4,000 travelers stranded on planes or in airport lounges, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The MD-11 cargo plane, operated by Zimbabwe-based Avient Aviation, was heading to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Xinhua said. Avient's chief operating officer, Simon Clarke, refused to say what cargo it was carrying.
The aircraft's tail struck the ground on takeoff, China Central Television reported, and Xinhua said the plane veered off the runway and burst into flames. Footage showed black smoke billowing from the wreckage.
Three Americans on the seven-member crew died and a fourth was injured, U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan told The Associated Press. He did not give their names, saying the embassy had not yet asked their families for permission to release the information.
Shanghai television showed what it called a 61-year-old American co-pilot in a hospital bed, conscious and saying, "Thank you" to staff and officials.
The TV report said the other crew members were from Indonesia, Belgium and Zimbabwe.
Clarke said the crash was Avient's first.
"We're trying to ascertain the facts and the circumstances," he said. "It would be premature to release any information before that."
The company's site says it is "fully trained to move most categories of dangerous goods," but it adds, "as a company policy we do not carry any arms and/or ammunition."
In March, another MD-11 cargo plane crashed and exploded while landing at Japan's largest international airport, killing its two American pilots. Xinhua said another MD-11 with Korean Air crashed shortly after takeoff 10 years ago at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport.
The Pudong airport, located by the East China Sea, opened a cargo facility in March 2008 that officials said was aimed at making Shanghai the cargo hub of Asia by 2010.
Recent crashes in China include two Chinese air force jets colliding in June 2008 in Inner Mongolia, with both pilots parachuting to safety. In June 2006, a Chinese military plane crashed in eastern Anhui province, killing all 40 people aboard.
Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Beijing and Angus Shaw in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Paisley Dodds in London contributed to this report.