Experts comb through cargo plane crash site in northern Greece; 8 dead

PALAIOCHORI, Greece (AP) — Experts investigated a cargo plane crash in northern Greece on Sunday, finding no evidence of hazardous substances, but saying there was plenty of ammunition the plane was carrying around from the accident site. The Serbian Defense Minister confirmed that all eight crew members died in the crash.

The An-12 cargo plane from Serbia was piloted by a Ukrainian aviation crew before crashing in fields between two Greek villages on Saturday evening. The plane crashed shortly before 11 p.m. about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Kavala International Airport.


Minutes earlier, the pilot had told air traffic controllers he had a problem with an engine and needed to make an emergency landing, officials said. He was directed to Kavala airport but never arrived.

The Soviet-era four-engine turboprop fuselage dragged on the ground for 170 yards (nearly 190 yards) before disintegrating. Residents reported seeing a fireball and hearing explosions for two hours after the crash. Drone footage showed small fragments were all that was left of the plane.

Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told a press conference on Sunday that all eight crew members of the plane were dead. He said the plane was carrying 11.5 tons of Serbian-made mortar ammunition in Bangladesh, which was the buyer. He had taken off from the Serbian city of Nis and was scheduled to stop in Amman, Jordan.

“These were mortar illumination and training mines (mines). … This flight had all the necessary authorizations in accordance with international regulations,” said Stefanovic.

The aircraft was operated by Ukrainian cargo carrier Meridian. The Ukrainian consul in Thessaloniki, who arrived at the crash site, told local officials that the crew was all Ukrainian.

The Greek military’s joint nuclear, biological and chemical defense special unit cleared two lanes on Sunday for firefighter forensic experts to move in before leaving. By sunset, this second team had recovered all the bodies, the commander of the army mine-clearing battalion told reporters.

Explosives disposal experts also worked at the site. It is only when their work is completed that the experts of the Civil Aviation Authority will attempt to recover the black boxes from the plane.

Firefighters and police created an extended security perimeter due to the abundance of ammunition. Nearby dirt roads have been closed to vehicles. Firefighters who rushed to the scene on Saturday evening were prevented from reaching the crash site by smoke and an intense smell which they feared was poisonous.

Residents were allowed to leave their homes on Sunday after being ordered to stay indoors and keep their windows closed on Saturday evening. But officials have told residents their fields may not be safe to work in due to the likely presence of explosives.

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Nellas reported from Athens, Greece, and Gec from Belgrade, Serbia.

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