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20 missing after Congo plane crash

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  • NEW: Search operations suspended for the night
  • At least 38 people were killed, most of them on the ground
  • State governor says he had pressed for funds to lengthen runway
  • Airline had been banned by European authorities over safety concerns
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(CNN) -- Rescue workers were still searching for 20 people Wednesday, a day after a plane in the Democratic Republic of Congo crashed into a busy market, killing at least 38 people and injuring another 115, officials said.

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A plane burns Tuesday after crashing on takeoff in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Julian Mpaluku, governor of Congo's Nord-Kivu province, said there were charred bodies amid the wreckage that had not been removed.

Mpaluku said his administration has asked the central government several times to fix the airport's runway, which was shortened six years ago when a volcano eruption destroyed nearly half of the city of Goma.

The country's embassy did not return a phone call for clarification on the governor's allegation.

The DC-9 passenger jet, operated by Hewa Bora airlines, tore through a crowded marketplace in the Birere neighborhood of Goma on Tuesday before breaking apart and bursting into flames.

Many of the victims are believed to be people who lived and worked in the neighborhood, according to Kemal Saiki, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in DR Congo.

More than 100 people were hospitalized, he said.

The plane crashed shortly after taking off from Goma's airport. The plane's pilot, who is hospitalized, told United Nations officials that engine failure and the shortened runway contributed to the crash.

He said he tried to abort the takeoff after an engine failed.

Because of the shortened runway, there is no room for error, and the pilot said he skidded out of control after putting on the brakes. Video Watch iReport video of crash aftermath »

The pilot said the flight data recorder has been retrieved, Saiki said.

The central government sent a delegation to the site Wednesday, Mpaluku said, and added that he intends to meet with its members Thursday to further discuss possible repairs to the runway.

Meanwhile, Mpaluku said, Congo's medical infrastructure -- weakened by years of infighting -- is struggling under the stress of the crash.

The governor said that he visited several hospitals Wednesday and that they are struggling to cope with the large number of patients.

He said there is a severe shortage of antibiotics.

Nord-Kivu has received 10 metric tons of medical supplies from the federal government, Mpaluku said. Relief organizations, including the World Health Organization and the U.N. Population Fund, also are assisting.

The plane was heading from Goma to the central city of Kisangani when it crashed shortly after 3 p.m. (9 a.m. ET), according to Congolese government official Antoine Ghonda.

According to a manifest obtained by the U.S. Embassy, there were 79 passengers and five crew members aboard the plane. Ghonda and Saiki said the entire crew survived.

Also among the survivors were members of an American missionary family from southeastern Minnesota; Barry and Marybeth Mosier were on their way to visit their son Keith, 24, in Kisangani with their two younger children.

"We couldn't believe that our family of four could all escape a plane that was crashed and on fire, but by God's mercy, we did," Barry Mosier said.

Saiki said that 200 U.N. peacekeepers remain stationed around the site to prevent looters and make sure the scene is not compromised for investigators and recovery workers.

The European Union added Hewa Bora airlines to its blacklist of carriers just last week. Although all other Congo carriers had been banned by the EU, Hewa Bora operated a weekly flight to Belgium "under a special arrangement." That flight was halted last week because of safety violations.

Congolese authorities had not suspended the airline, but Ghonda said, "I'm quite sure they're going to" after Tuesday's crash.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, has a dismal aviation record. There have been 10 plane crashes in the nation since February of last year, resulting in 76 deaths -- not including Tuesday's crash -- according to Aviation Safety Network.

Saiki said that because of its poor infrastructure, air travel is one of the few ways to get around the nation.

"This is the third largest country in Africa, as big as Western Europe, and yet you don't even have 2,000 miles of roads," Saiki said. "So basically, most of the transportation in such a big country is done by air."

The search and rescue effort was suspended Wednesday due to darkness and "logistical problems." It is scheduled to resume Thursday morning. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Alanne Orjoux and Jim Kavanagh contributed to this report.

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