PALAIOCHORI, Greece (AP) — An Antonov cargo plane operated by a Ukrainian airline crashed near the northern Greek town of Kavala on Saturday, authorities said. Local residents reported seeing a fireball and hearing explosions for two hours after the crash.
Greek civil aviation authorities said the flight was heading from Serbia to Jordan. The An-12, a Soviet-built turboprop aircraft, was operated by cargo carrier Meridian.
Greek media reported that there were eight people on the plane and that it was carrying 12 tonnes of “dangerous materials”, mostly explosives. But local officials said they had no specific information about the cargo and provided varying numbers of people on board.
As a precautionary measure due to a strong smell emanating from the accident site, a coordination committee made up of municipal officials, police officers and firefighters asked the inhabitants of the two localities closest to the accident site to keep their windows closed all night, not to leave their homes and to wear masks. Authorities say they don’t know if there were any dangerous chemicals on the plane, including those in the batteries.
The Greek civil aviation authority says the pilot managed to alert authorities to a problem in one of the plane’s engines and was given the choice of landing at Thessaloniki airports or Kavala, and he opted for Kavala, which was closer, saying he had to make an emergency landing.
Communication with the aircraft ceased almost immediately afterwards. The plane crashed about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the airport.
“We were hearing explosions until a few minutes ago,” Filippos Anastassiadis, mayor of the municipality of Paggaio, told The Associated Press just over an hour after the crash. “I’m about 300 yards from the crash site.”
One of Anastassiadis’ deputies told state broadcaster ERT that explosions were heard for two hours after the accident.
Residents reported seeing a ball of fire and a plume of smoke before the crash.
ERT reported that the army and explosives experts were on their way to the site, located on agricultural land near two villages that are part of the municipality of Paggaio. But they are not expected to start work before dawn. Experts from the Greek Atomic Energy Commission will join them.
Firefighters cordoned off the area within a radius of about 400 meters. The cordoned off area will be expanded at dawn, firefighters said.
Nellas reported from Athens, Greece.
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