Crew killed in Ukrainian cargo plane crash in northern Greece

ATHENS (Reuters) – A Ukrainian cargo plane carrying munitions from Serbia to Bangladesh crashed near the northern Greek city of Kavala late on Saturday, killing all its crew members, Serbian authorities and Meridian Airlines said on Sunday.

Drone images from the scene showed burning debris from the Antonov An-12 scattered in the fields. Greek authorities said there were eight crew members on board, and a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said they were all Ukrainian citizens.

Ukraine-based Meridian Airlines, which operates the plane, said all crew members were killed in the crash. Read more

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The Serbian defense minister said the plane was carrying 11.5 tons of products, including mortars and training shells, from the defense industry. He said the buyer of the shipment was the Ministry of Defense of Bangladesh.

Denis Bogdanovic, general manager of Meridian, confirmed Serbia’s version of events. “This has nothing to do with Ukraine or Russia,” Bogdanovich told Reuters by phone.

Eyewitnesses said that the plane fell in a ball of flames before it exploded when it hit corn fields around midnight local time. The pilot had earlier reported an engine failure and requested an emergency landing.

Greek authorities were unable to provide information on the aircraft’s cargo or crew. A special disaster response unit and army experts were dispatched to the scene, while local authorities issued a movement ban for people in the area.

Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the shipment included luminous mortars and training shells. It took off at 1840 GMT on Saturday from Nice in Serbia.

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“The plane carried 11.5 tons of products made by our defense industry. The buyer is the Bangladeshi Ministry of Defense,” Stefanovic said.

He said the cargo of the aircraft is owned by Serbian company Valir, a company registered to carry out foreign trade activities of armed military equipment and other defense products.

Greek state TV ERT said the plane’s signal was lost shortly after the pilot requested an emergency landing from Greek aviation authorities due to an engine problem.

Amateur video footage uploaded to ertnews.gr showed the plane in flames and rapidly descending before hitting the ground in what appeared to be an explosion.

“I wonder how it didn’t fall on our houses,” one of the witnesses, Emilia Sabtanova, told reporters. “It was full of smoke, it had a noise I can’t describe, and it went over the mountain. And across the mountain it turned and fell into the fields.”

A senior source in the Jordanian Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority denied the initial reports that the plane was heading to Jordan. The official Jordan News Agency (Petra) reported that the source said that his itinerary included a stopover at Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan at 9:30 pm (0630 GMT) to refuel.

The Serbian defense minister said he was also scheduled to make stops in Riyadh and Ahmedabad in India before heading to Dhaka.

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(Reporting by Rene Maltezzo, Ivana Siculrak, Tom Palmforth, Max Hunder, Michelle Campas, Thanassis Almazys and Yasmin Hussein; Editing by Raisa Kasulowski and Jane Merriman

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