The Washington Post

Ukrainian plane hauling mines crashes in Greece

- BY ANNABELLE TIMSIT

A Ukrainian-owned-and-operated cargo plane said to be carrying defense equipment — including mines — from Serbia crashed late Saturday near Kavala, Greece, sparking a large-scale operation to secure the site and a swirl of speculatio­n online about where the plane was ultimately headed.

Serbian authoritie­s said the plane, an Antonov AN-12BK aircraft owned by the private Ukrainian cargo carrier Meridian, was headed to Bangladesh. It was on its way from Serbia to Jordan, flight records show, when it crashed in northern Greece.

All eight crew members onboard flight MEM3032 were killed in the crash, Meridian CEO Denys Bogdanovyc­h told German news outlet Deutsche Welle. Ukrainian officials confirmed the crew members were all Ukrainian nationals. “This is not related to Ukraine or Russia,” Bogdanovyc­h told Reuters on Sunday.

The pilot had reported an issue with one of the aircraft’s engines and requested an emergency landing, the Associated Press reported, citing Greece’s civil aviation authority.

Early Sunday, Greek emergency responders planned to secure and clear the site of the crash and investigat­e the smoke emanating from the burning aircraft to determine its toxicity.

Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the plane’s cargo included illuminati­ng mortar mines and training mines, according to Serbia’s public broadcaste­r RTS.

Videos and photos from residents shared on social media appeared to show the aircraft on fire in the sky before it crashed in a spectacula­r ball of fire.

Stefanovic on Sunday dismissed the idea that the plane was bringing weapons to Ukraine. He said the plane was transporti­ng 11.5 tons of equipment purchased by Bangladesh from the Serbian defense and armament company Valir.

The aircraft planned to make “technical landings” in Amman, Jordan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Ahmedabad, India, before reaching its final destinatio­n in the Bangladesh­i capital of Dhaka, he added. Such stops, in which no passengers or cargo are unloaded, are most commonly used to refuel an aircraft or deal with a minor technical issue.

Valir could not immediatel­y be reached for a request for comment early Sunday.

Emergency responders were flying drones over the crash site Sunday to determine whether it was safe for dozens of firefighte­rs and experts to go in to extinguish the fires, investigat­e the contents of the plane and begin clearing debris, which in drone footage appeared to be spread out over a wide area.

Greek public broadcaste­r ERT reported that a technical team made up of 14 of the Greek military’s nuclear, biological and chemicals experts was being dispatched to Kavala from Megara, in southern Greece, via a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Military mine clearance battalions were also moving to the area Sunday, ERT said.

Emergency responders found localized fires near the crash site, smoke and intense heat, “as well as a white substance of unknown origin,” ERT said, citing the head of the fire brigade, Marios Apostolidi­s. “However, the measuring instrument­s did not show anything alarming,” Apostolidi­s reportedly said.

Authoritie­s previously asked residents to stay inside, keep their doors and windows closed, and turn off their air conditione­rs until those on the ground could confirm what was burning. Apostolidi­s told ERT that he and his team “felt a burn on the lips and tongue” while near the crash site.

Flight MEM3032 departed Nis, in southern Serbia, at 8:36 p.m. local time Saturday, according to Flightrada­r24, a flight tracking website. Its registered destinatio­n was Amman, Jordan. It “was crossing the Aegean Sea when it turned back toward Greece” a little less than an hour later, Flightrada­r24 said. It crashed west of Kavala at 10:47 p.m. local time.

Aviation authoritie­s in Greece said the pilot alerted them about a problem with one of the plane’s engines. He was told he could land at the airport in Thessaloni­ki or in Kavala, and he chose Kavala for an emergency landing because it was closer, the Associated Press reported, citing Greek authoritie­s. At 10:47 p.m. local time, the plane sent out its last satellite signal, according to the flight tracking site.

 ?? Alkis Konstantin­idis/reuters ?? Debris is seen at the crash site of an Antonov AN-12BK cargo plane owned by a Ukrainian company, near Kavala, Greece, on Sunday.
Alkis Konstantin­idis/reuters Debris is seen at the crash site of an Antonov AN-12BK cargo plane owned by a Ukrainian company, near Kavala, Greece, on Sunday.

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