Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Dozens of Spanish peacekeepers die in airplane crash


Seventy-four people, mostly Spanish peacekeeping forces serving in Afghanistan, were killed when a Ukrainian plane crashed early yesterday while trying to refuel in northwest Turkey, Turkish officials said.

The plane was flying from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Zaragoza, Spain, with a refueling stop in the Black Sea port of Trabzon, private NTV television reported, quoting unnamed Turkish aviation officials.

The Russian-made YAK-42, which belonged to a Ukrainian company, Sredizemnomorske, hit a mountain slope near the town of Macka, 50km south of Trabzon, NTV said.

Spain's Defense Ministry said there were 62 Spanish military personnel on the plane, 41 from the army and 21 from the air force, all of whom were confirmed dead. Turkish officials reported 12 crew members aboard.

Turkish military officials at the scene said there were no survivors, private CNN-Turk television reported.

The plane apparently went down on its third attempt to land in thick fog at Trabzon airport, the aviation officials said, according to NTV. The officials said the pilot reported not being able to see the runway in the first two attempts, and the plane disappeared from radar screens at 4:45am.

Turkish soldiers retrieved more than 25 charred bodies from the wreckage, Governor Aslan Yildirim of Trabzon told CNN-Turk television. The soldiers also found the plane's black box flight recorder which could indicate whether there were any failures in the aircraft's operations or its systems.

"Most bodies are in pieces or dismembered," Yildirim said. "It will be very difficult to identify them."

The plane, which apparently carried some ammunition belonging to the Spanish soldiers, burst into flames and exploded into pieces upon impact. Turkish soldiers said there were still unexploded hand grenades among the wreckage and evacuated the site fearing possible explosions, CNN-Turk reported.

But an eyewitness account suggested that the plane might have caught fire even before the crash.

"When I looked at the skies I saw a burning airplane, then two minutes later I heard two big explosions," the Anatolia news agency quoted Ergin Koyu, an eyewitness, as saying.

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