PALAIOCHORI, Greece (AP) — Experts were investigating the site of a plane crash in northern Greece on Sunday to determine if there were any remaining hazardous chemicals or explosive cargo.
When they finish their work later today, they will clear the way for forensic experts to recover the bodies of the crew, authorities said.
The An-12 cargo plane crashed in fields between two villages on Saturday. Its fuselage dragged on the ground for some 170 meters before disintegrating, authorities said.
Local residents reported seeing a fireball and hearing explosions for two hours after the crash. A plume of white smoke still rose from the front of the plane on Sunday morning.
Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told a press conference on Sunday that all eight crew members had been killed. He said the plane was carrying 11.5 tons of Serbian-made mortar ammunition in Bangladesh, which was the buyer. He had taken off from the Serbian city of Nis and was scheduled to stop in Amman, Jordan.
The plane was operated by Ukrainian cargo carrier Meridian, and the Ukrainian consul in Thessaloniki, who arrived at the crash site, told local officials the crew was all Ukrainian.
“These were mortar illumination and training mines (mines). … This flight had all the necessary authorizations in accordance with international regulations,” Stefanovic said.
The plane crashed shortly before 11 p.m., about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Kavala International Airport. A few minutes earlier, the plane’s pilot had told air traffic controllers that there was a problem with one of its engines and that he had to make an emergency landing. He was directed to Kavala but never arrived there.
The aircraft is a Soviet-era four-engine turboprop cargo carrier.
Drone footage shows small fragments are all that remains of the plane. Firefighters who rushed to the scene overnight were prevented from reaching the crash site by smoke and an intense smell that they feared was poisonous.
Nearby residents were told to keep their windows closed all night, not to leave their homes and to wear masks. Authorities said they don’t know if there were any dangerous chemicals on the plane, including those in the batteries.
Firefighters cordoned off the area within a radius of about 400 meters.
The mayor of the municipality of Paggaio, to which the two villages close to the accident belong, has prohibited the circulation of vehicles on the surrounding roads.
Nellas reported from Athens, Greece, and Gec from Belgrade, Serbia.