A large cargo aircraft transporting munitions from Serbia to Bangladesh has crashed and exploded in a ball of flames in northern Greece, killing all eight crew onboard.
An Antonov An-12 cargo plane operated by a Ukrainian airline has crashed near the city of Kavala in northern Greece with residents reporting seeing a fireball and hearing explosions for two hours after the incident.
Serbia’s defence minister, Nebojša Stefanović, said the plane was carrying 11.5 tonnes of military products, including illuminating mortar shells and training shells, and the buyer was the Bangladesh defense ministry.
Greek authorities said there were eight crew members onboard. A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said they were all Ukrainian citizens.
Video and witness reports suggested the Antonov An-12 plane caught fire while still in the air. Witnesses said they had heard explosions as it flew over the area on Saturday night, Athens News Agency reported. Greek authorities said the pilot had made an emergency call before crashing.
A local man, Giorgos Archontopoulos, told state broadcaster ERT television he had felt something was wrong as soon as he heard the aircraft’s engine. He said: “I went outside and saw the engine on fire.”
Local officials said seven fire engines had been deployed to the crash site but that they could not approach because of continuing explosions. One of the mayor’s deputies told ERT blasts were heard for two hours after the crash.
Police were asking journalists at the scene to wear masks, ERT said.
Greek Civil Aviation authorities said originally the flight was heading from Serbia to Jordan, although Amman later confirmed it was stopping there only to refuel. The plane, a Soviet-built turboprop aircraft, was operated by the cargo carrier Meridian.
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 two nearby localities to keep their windows shut, not leave their homes and to wear masks.
Authorities said they did not know if there were dangerous chemicals on the plane, including those contained in batteries.
A drone was expected on Sunday to approach the wreckage site, located on farmland close to two villages that are part of the Paggaio municipality. ERT said army and explosive as well as Greek Atomic Energy Commission experts were expected to use the drone before approaching the site amid fears about the toxicity of the unknown cargo.
Two firefighters were taken to hospital early on Sunday with breathing issues because of toxic fumes.
Greek Civil Aviation said the pilot had alerted authorities about a problem in one of the plane’s engines and was given the choice of landing at either Thessaloniki or Kavala airports. He opted for Kavala, which was closer, saying he had to make an emergency landing.
Communication with the plane ceased almost immediately afterwards. The plane crashed about 25 miles (40km) west of the airport.
“We were hearing explosions until a few minutes ago,” Filippos Anastassiadis, the mayor of the municipality of Paggaio, said a little over an hour after the accident. “I am about 300 metres from the site of the crash.”
ERT reported that it was a Ukrainian aircraft, which according to villagers was already in flames before it crashed. The aircraft was still burning, according to live footage broadcast on state television.
One firefighter told reporters at the scene: “You need to go away for your safety. There is information that the aircraft was carrying ammunition.”
Anastassiadis told Open TV: “The aircraft crashed around two kilometres away from an inhabited area.”
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