PALAIOCHORI, Greece ( Associated Press) — Experts were investigating the site of a plane crash in northern Greece on Sunday to determine if any dangerous chemicals or explosive payloads remained.
When they finish their work later in the day, they will clear the way for forensic experts to collect the bodies of the crew, authorities said.
The An-12 cargo plane crashed into fields between two towns on Saturday night. Its fuselage dragged along the ground for about 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 was still rising from the front of the plane on Sunday morning.
Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told a news conference on Sunday that all eight crew members were killed. He said the plane was carrying 11.5 tons of Serbian-made mortar munitions to Bangladesh, which was the buyer. He had taken off from the Serbian city of Nis and was scheduled to make a stopover in Amman, Jordan.
The plane was operated by the Ukrainian cargo carrier Meridian, and the Ukrainian consul in Thessaloniki, who arrived at the crash site, told local officials that the crew were Ukrainian.
“These were lighting mortar mines and training (mines). … This flight had all the necessary permits according to international regulations,” Stefanovic said.
The plane crashed shortly before 11 p.m., about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Kavala international airport. 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 got there.
The aircraft is a Soviet-era four-engine turboprop cargo transport.
Drone footage shows that small fragments are all that remains of the plane. Firefighters who responded to the crash site at night were unable to reach the crash site due to smoke and a strong odor that they feared might be toxic.
Nearby residents were told to keep their windows closed all night, not to leave their homes and to wear masks. Authorities said they did not know if there were any hazardous chemicals on the plane, including those contained in the batteries.
Firefighters have cordoned off the area in a radius of about 400 meters.
The mayor of the municipality of Paggaio, to which the two towns near the accident belong, has prohibited the circulation of vehicles on nearby roads.
Nellas reported from Athens, Greece and Gec from Belgrade, Serbia.