Europe

Jordan-bound Ukrainian cargo plane carrying weapons crashes in Greece

An Antonov cargo plane operated by a Ukrainian airline crashed Saturday near the city of Kavala in northern Greece, killing all eight crew members on board, authorities said. 

Local residents reported seeing a fireball and hearing explosions for two hours after the crash.

Greek Civil Aviation authorities said the flight was heading from Serbia to Jordan. The An-12 — a Soviet-built turboprop aircraft — was operated by cargo carrier Meridian.

Serbian Minister of Defence Nebojša Stefanović said at a press conference in Belgrade on Sunday that the cargo plane was carrying 11,5 tonnes of materiel to Bangladesh. The aircraft was scheduled to make several “technical stops” in Amman, Riyadh and Ahmedabad, as well as Dacca.

He rejected the “malicious and untrue” allegations that the lethal cargo on board was meant for Ukraine, saying that the “aeroplane had all necessary permits, and everything was according to international regulations.”

As a precaution because of a strong smell emanating from the crash site, a coordinating committee made up of municipal, police and fire service officials told inhabitants of the two localities closest to the crash site to keep their windows shut all night, not to leave their homes and to wear masks. 

Authorities say they were concerned that there were dangerous chemicals on the plane, including those contained in batteries.

Explosions continued for hours, say residents

Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority said the pilot managed to issue an alert about a problem in one of the plane’s engines, and he was given the choice of landing in either the Thessaloniki or Kavala airports. He opted for Kavala, which was closer, saying that he had to make an emergency landing.

Communication with the plane ceased almost immediately afterwards. The plane crashed about 40 kilometres west of the airport.

“We were hearing explosions until a few minutes ago,” Filippos Anastassiadis, mayor of the municipality of Paggaio, told AP a little over an hour after the accident. “I am about 300 meters from the site of the crash.”

One of Anastassiadis’ deputies told state broadcaster ERT that explosions were heard for two hours following the crash.

Locals reported seeing a fireball and a plume of smoke before the crash.

ERT reported that army and explosive experts were en route to the site, located on farmland close to two villages that are part of the Paggaio municipality, but they are not expected to start working before dawn. Experts from Greece’s Atomic Energy Commission will join them.

The fire service has cordoned off the area at a radius of about 400 meters. The cordoned-off area will be expanded at dawn, fire service officials said.

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