Entire crew killed as aircraft carrying mortar shells comes down in ball of flames
A Ukrainian cargo plane carrying munitions from Serbia to Bangladesh crashed near the city of Kavala in northern Greece late on Saturday, killing the crew members on board, Serbian authorities and Meridian airline said on Sunday.
Drone images from the scene showed smouldering debris from the Antonov An-12 aircraft strewn in fields. Greek authorities said there were eight crew members on board and a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said they were all Ukrainian citizens.
Ukrainian-based airline Meridian, which operated the aircraft, said all the crew members were killed in the crash.
Serbia’s defence minister said the plane was carrying 11.5 tonnes of products, including mortar and training shells, made by its defence industry. The buyer of the cargo was the defence ministry of Bangladesh, he said.
Denys Bogdanovych, Meridian’s general director, confirmed Serbia’s account of events. “This is not related to Ukraine or Russia,” Bogdanovych told Reuters by telephone.
Witnesses said the aircraft came down in a ball of flames before exploding on impact in corn fields around midnight local time. Earlier the pilot had reported engine trouble and had requested an emergency landing.
Greek authorities could not provide information on the aircraft’s cargo or the crew. The special disaster response unit and army experts were dispatched to the scene, while local authorities issued a ban on people moving in the area.
Serbia’s defence minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the cargo included illuminating mortar shells and training shells. It had taken off at 1840 GMT Saturday from Nis in Serbia.
“The plane carried 11.5 tonnes of products made by our defence industry. The buyer was the Bangladesh defence ministry,” Stefanovic said.
He said the plane’s cargo was owned by Serbian company Valir, a company registered to perform foreign trade activities of armament military equipment and other defence products.
Greek state TV ERT said the aircraft’s signal was lost soon after the pilot requested an emergency landing from Greek aviation authorities due to an engine problem.
Amateur video footage uploaded on ertnews.gr showed the aircraft in flames descending fast before hitting the ground in what appeared to be an explosion.
“I wonder how it didn’t fall on our houses,” one witness, Aimilia Tsaptanova, told reporters. “It was full of smoke, it had a noise I can’t describe and went over the mountain. It passed the mountain and turned and crashed into the fields.”
A senior source at Jordan’s civil aviation regulatory commission denied initial reports that the plane was headed to Jordan. The source said that its flight itinerary included a stopover in Jordanâs Queen Alia international airport at 9:30 pm (0630 GMT), to refuel, state news agency Petra reported on Sunday.
It was also due to stop in Riyadh and Ahmedabad in India before heading to Dhaka, Serbia’s defence minister said.