'The sights, sounds and stench at the scene were unimaginable'

It took a plane crash to put the conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in the media spotlight, reports Anna Ridout.

Three weeks into my five-week deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo with World Vision, I thought I had lost the ability to be shocked.

I was sent to the conflict-torn central African state to gather stories and pictures to draw the attention of the world's media to this most forgotten of emergencies, and to train our staff on the ground to do likewise. Shortly after arriving, I met a man who had been abducted, tied up and held in a hole for more than two weeks. I heard the stories of a woman shot through the back as she sat eating and of men castrated because they refused to join a rebel faction.

There are so many such stories that they eventually become, I'm ashamed to say, almost commonplace. But a recent event left me, once again, thoroughly shocked.

Working in the World Vision office in Goma, the main city in eastern DR Congo, I suddenly heard a huge bang, followed immediately by a massive plume of smoke.

Racing to the scene with my Congolese colleagues, armed with cameras and notepads, we found a commercial airliner bound for Kinshasa had failed to clear the runway and had crashed into a marketplace, bursting into flames.

Sent to DR Congo to source stories the media would want to cover, I had suddenly become part of one they were desperate to run.

Phone calls over static-filled lines to my colleagues at home and in the US generated media ring-rounds that produced an avalanche of calls and interview requests. 

In the hours following, I did interviews for CNN, Fox, Sky, Al Jazeera, ITN and BBC News 24 - to name but a few. In total, the story was picked up by more than 340 news outlets around the world.

I gave interviews standing fewer than ten metres from the nose of the stricken plane. The sights, sounds and stench at the crash scene were unimaginable. But when you're in work mode, you somehow keep going.

Unreliable mobile phone lines and highly temperamental internet connections made giving interviews, getting photographs and footage to the media hugely difficult. But we did it - just.

When I was asked to come here and do what I could to generate media interest in the disaster that is everyday life in DR Congo, I had no idea we would achieve it like this.

It took a plane crash to put the country in the media spotlight. The challenge is how to keep it there.

Anna Ridout is an emergency communications officer at World Vision UK.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in