By Ebi Kesiena
Eight crew members of a cargo plane that crashed near the Greek city of Kavala died in the accident, Serbia’s defence minister said on Sunday.
The Ukrainian-operated Antonov An-12 was carrying mines and around 11 tonnes of weapons to Bangladesh when it crashed on Saturday night, minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said.
Videos shared by eyewitnesses on social media showed the plane engulfed by a giant fireball as it hit the ground.
“I think the crew were Ukrainian but I don’t have any information about that. They were not Serbian,” Stefanovic told a news conference.
The plane had taken off from Nis airport in Serbia at around 8:40 pm (1840 GMT) on Saturday, carrying weapons owned by private Serbian company Valir, he said.
Greek media said it had requested clearance to make an emergency landing at Kavala airport but had not managed to reach it.
Greek rescue services were using a drone on Sunday to monitor the wreckage of the aircraft as fears about the toxicity of the cargo were forcing them to keep at a distance.
State-run TV said the army, explosives experts and Greek Atomic Energy Commission staff would approach the crash site once it was deemed safe.
“Men from the fire service with special equipment and measuring instruments approached the point of impact of the aircraft and had a close look at the fuselage and other parts scattered in the fields,” fire brigade official Marios Apostolidis told reporters.
Search teams would go in when the area is deemed secure, he added.
A 13-strong special team from the fire brigade, 26 firemen and seven fire engines were deployed to the area but could not yet approach the crash site, local officials said.
Video footage from a local channel showed signs of impact on a field and the aircraft in pieces scattered over a wide area. Eyewitnesses said they saw the aircraft on fire and heard explosions.