The Serbian Defense Minister said on Sunday that all eight crew members died in the crash of a Ukrainian cargo plane in Greece en route from Serbia to Bangladesh carrying military supplies.
All eight bodies were found and are now on the wanted list.
During a briefing by the Greek fire department earlier in the day, spokesman Ioannis Artopoyos stressed that experts at the crash site did not find any “hazardous materials”.
“Unfortunately, according to the information we received, eight crew members died in a plane crash,” the message says. Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told at a press conference.
An Antonov An-12 took off from Nis Airport in southern Serbia on Saturday at 20:40 (18:40 GMT) with “about 11 tons of military goods”, namely mines from the private Serbian company Valir, for the Bangladesh Ministry of Defense. Stefanovich said.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that eight aircrew were citizens of Ukraine. “The preliminary cause of the accident is the failure of one of the engines,” spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook.
Denis Bogdanovich, CEO of Meridian, the Ukrainian airline that operates the aircraft, also told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that the entire crew was Ukrainian.
Witnesses said they saw the burning private Antonov and heard explosions. Videos posted to social media show the plane was engulfed in a giant fireball as it crashed to the ground late Saturday night.
According to an AFP photographer, the wreckage is scattered over a wide area, and the crash site, surrounded by fields, was visible from the air.
“We heard a deafening noise (and saw) a fireball approaching the ground. Then there was an explosion,” Sophia, a mother of three from the nearby village of Antifilipi, told the Athens News Agency (ANA).
The Greek fire brigade said the plane crashed around 2300 (2000 GMT) near the village of Paleochori, about 23 kilometers (14 miles) northwest of the northern Greek city of Kavala.
Greek air traffic control said the plane requested permission for an emergency landing at Kavala airport, but did not make it.
The Bangladeshi military confirmed that they were the intended recipients of the shipment.
The plane was carrying “training mortars purchased from Serbia for the Bangladeshi army” and border guards, the military’s public relations department said.
“There were no weapons in the party, and it was insured,” the department added.
Biological and chemical weapons specialists from the Greek army consolidated the crash site on Sunday, giving rescue teams “everything clear,” Artopoyos, a fire department spokesman, said. The service then opened safe passageways for rescuers to retrieve the bodies, he added.
Two firefighters were rushed to the hospital early Sunday morning with difficulty breathing from the poisonous fumes.
Villagers were forbidden from entering the nearby fields until the authorities cleared debris and unexploded ordnance.
People living within a two-kilometer radius of the crash site were asked to stay inside and wear masks late Saturday night.
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“Engine on Fire”
The ANA said it would launch an investigation into the cause of the crash, and late Sunday afternoon there were reports that a search party had found a flight recorder.
Local resident Giorgos Archontopoulos told the Greek state broadcaster ERT that he felt something was wrong as soon as he heard the sound of an aircraft overhead.
“I went outside and saw that the engine was on fire,” he said.
“If it had crashed a few seconds earlier, it would have hit our house,” Michalis Emmanouilidis, 80, told ANA, visibly shaken.
Ukraine’s consul in Thessaloniki, Vadym Sabluk, visited the area on Sunday, and the Greek Foreign Ministry offered “sincere condolences” to the families of the victims.
ANA said Sabluk confirmed the identity of the crew and the plane’s destination.
The Serbian Defense Minister said that the supply of weapons is not related to the Russian war in Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, some media have suggested that the plane was carrying weapons destined for Ukraine, but this is completely untrue,” he said.