The Washington Post
Ukrainian plane hauling mines crashes in Greece
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.