Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Slovak military airplane crashes, killing at least 42

SOLE SURVIVOR The plane, which was carrying Slovak troops home after serving in the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, crashed into a mountainside in Hungary

AP , HEJCE, HUNGARY

Two passenger seats lie in the snow early yesterday at the scene where a Slovak military Antonov AN-24 plane crashed near the village of Hejce, some 250km northeast of Budapest, on Thursday night.

PHOTO: AP

A Slovak military plane carrying troops back from Kosovo crashed into a mountainside in northeastern Hungary, killing at least 42 people, officials said yesterday.

Only one person survived after the AN-24 aircraft went down on Thursday near the Slovak border, said National Police spokesman Laszlo Garamvolgyi. The survivor was taken to a hospital in the Slovak city of Kosice for treatment of head injuries and burns, but there was no immediate word on his condition.

Tibor Dobson, spokesman for Hungary's national catastrophe rescue service, said there were 43 people on board the plane and that all but one died, based on a passenger list provided by the Slovak embassy in Budapest.

That included 35 passengers who all had some kind of military rank and eight crew members, Dobson said.

But Garamvolgyi said there were 45 people on board and that 44 were killed. The discrepancy could not be immediately explained.

A NATO officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said in Kosovo that the plane was carrying Slovak soldiers back home after serving in the NATO-led peacekeeping force. Officials say Slovak troops help patrol the boundary between Kosovo and Serbia.

According to a statement from the local police, the plane cut off the tops of trees along a 400m stretch before slamming into the mountainside. Air traffic controllers lost sight of the aircraft just after 7:30pm, and authorities began receiving reports of a crash from eyewitnesses shortly thereafter.

"An initial inspection revealed that the airplane ... was not carrying weapons, ammunition or explosives," the Borsod-Abauj-Zemplen County police said in a statement.

Gergely Abraham, a spokesman for the Economic and Transport Ministry said the area where the crash occurred about 250km northeast of Budapest was not heavily populated, but did not provide other details.

Hungarian rescuers and fire crews were at the crash site, Hungarian Interior Ministry spokesman Sandor Orodan said.

Dobson said around 450 Hungarian and 80 Slovak personnel were involved in the rescue effort, which so far had recovered the bodies of 18 victims.

The Czech news agency CTK reported Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda had called a late-night meeting with his Cabinet ministers.

The agency also said the Slovak army sent a helicopter to the crash site, but that it was unable to land because of bad weather.

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