This content is not available in your region

Jordan-bound Ukrainian cargo plane carrying weapons crashes in Greece

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews  with AP
euronews_icons_loading
Firefighters are seen near the site of a plane crash, a few miles away from the city of Kavala, 16 July 2022
Firefighters are seen near the site of a plane crash, a few miles away from the city of Kavala, 16 July 2022   -   Copyright  Ilias Kotsireas/InTime News via AP

All eight crew members have died after an Antonov cargo plane operated by a Ukrainian airline crashed on Saturday near the city of Kavala in northern Greece. 

Local residents reported seeing a fireball and hearing explosions for two hours after the initial 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 Defence Nebojša Stefanović said at a press conference in Belgrade on Sunday that the cargo plane was carrying 11.5 tonnes of materiel sold to the Bangladeshi military. The aircraft was scheduled to make several "technical stops" in Amman, Riyadh and Ahmedabad, as well as Dacca, according to Stefanović.

He rejected the "malicious and untrue" allegations that the lethal cargo on board was being shipped to Ukraine, saying that the "aeroplane 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 plane was set to land in Jordan, and its cargo was then to be shipped to Bangladesh.

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.

Explosions continued for hours, say residents

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 kilometres 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.

AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos
Locals reported seeing a fireball and a plume of smoke before the crash.AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos

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 with a radius of about 400 metres. Authorities added that the bodies of the eight Ukrainian crew members have been found.

Two Greek firefighters who went to the scene of the accident have also been hospitalised with breathing difficulties due to toxic fumes.

According to national media, Greece will lodge a protest over Serbia's failure to warn them about the plane's dangerous cargo.