Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Spain mourns its 62 air-crash victims

SOMBER CEREMONY It was the country's worst military accident ever, and a brass band played as the charred remains of the peacekeepers were loaded onto a plane


Turkish soldiers yesterday slowly loaded the flag-draped coffins of Spanish peacekeepers onto a military plane in a somber ceremony for the soldiers killed when their plane crashed on their return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

All 62 Spanish peacekeepers and 13 crew members were killed aboard the Ukrainian charter flight that crashed early Monday on a fog-shrouded mountain slope near the Turkish Black Sea port city of Trabzon.

A military brass band played as the Turkish soldiers carried six coffins on their shoulders and loaded them into a Hercules cargo plane at Trabzon airport, where the flight Monday had been scheduled to refuel.

Several dozen Turkish officers and a special Spanish forensic team, in Turkey to help identify the charred remains, saluted as a wreath was placed inside the last of three planes bound for Spain. The bodies were scheduled to arrive later yesterday.

The crash was Spain's worst military accident ever.

Members of the Spanish forensic team said that they had been able to identify all of the mangled bodies by Tuesday evening, using military name tags, wedding rings, clothing and dental records.

The troops were flying home to Spain after a four-month mission in Afghanistan when the aircraft crashed just before dawn in heavy fog.

Authorities were still examining the data and voice recorders for the Russian-made YAK-42D to try to understand why the plane crashed. The recorders were found Tuesday in piles of twisted metal, burned seat cushions, cassettes and souvenirs from Afghanistan.

The plane -- on its way from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Zaragoza, Spain -- had attempted to land in Trabzon, but was flying too high.

The airport is only a few hundred meters from the sea and its runway runs parallel to the shore. Turkish aviation officials said the pilot should have turned toward the sea to lower the plane, but the plane instead went inland toward the mountains amid heavy fog and strong winds.

Some Turkish aviation officials have speculated that there might have been a technical malfunction, although the company that owned the planes has dismissed any technical failures.

Another plane belonging to Ukrainian-Mediterranean Airlines (UM Air), the company that owned the plane that crashed, could be seen on the tarmac, directly behind the military ceremony in Trabzon yesterday. That plane was used by company officials dispatched to Turkey to investigate the crash.

The peacekeepers' deaths were the first deaths among Spanish troops in the 17 months they have been involved in the international mission in Afghanistan.

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