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 Defense Nebojša Stefanović said at a press conference in Belgrade on Sunday that the cargo plane was carrying 11,5 tons of materiel sold to the Bangladeshi military.
He rejected the "malicious and untrue" allegations that the cargo on board was being shipped to Ukraine, saying that the "airplane had all the necessary permits, and everything was according to international regulations."
Owner of the Belgrade-based company Valir Mladen Bogdanović told Serbian Nova TV that the Ukrainian cargo plane was set to land in Jordan, where the means to transport the shipment to Bangladesh was to be determined.
The contract between the company and Bangladesh authorities was signed in 2021, Bogdanović explained, and the cargo contained "school mines intended to be used in training the Bangladeshi army."
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.
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 kilometers 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.