ATHENS – Greece will file an official complaint with Serbia which didn’t report that a Ukrainian plane that left from there and crashed in northern Greece, killing all eight crew members, was carrying mortar ammunition and dangerous cargo.
The crash was followed by two hours of explosions and toxic fumes requiring nearby villagers to stay at home and keep their windows closed and prevented firefighters from getting near the scene.
The Soviet-era Antonov plane was carrying 11.5 tons of Serbian-made ammunition to Bangladesh, which was the buyer. It had taken off from the Serbian city of Nis and had been due to make a stopover in Amman, Jordan.
According to diplomatic sources, Greece’s ambassador in Belgrade will deliver the demarche, said Kathimerini, although it wasn’t said what Greece was expecting to happen as a result.
That came as eplosives disposal experts were working at the scene to clear the large amount of widespread ordnance and reduce the danger, with drones also being used to survey the site.
Greek state-run TV reported the army, explosives experts and Greek Atomic Energy Commission staff were not approaching the site until it was deemed safe nor why Serbia didn’t report the contents.
“The (air) measurements at the moment have not shown anything but nonetheless instability in the field was observed,” Lieutenant General Marios Apostolidis, of the Northern Greece Fire Brigade, told reporters.
“In other words, intense smoke and heat, as well as a white substance that we do not recognize, so a special armed forces team has to inform us what it is and whether we can enter the field.”
The pilot had reportedly requested an emergency landing at Kavala airport in Greece, due to an engine problem shortly after take off, but was unable to reach the runway although the cause of the crash hasn’t been determined.
Aimilia Tsaptanova – who saw the plane come down – said she was amazed it hadn’t crashed into their homes.
“It was full of smoke, it had a noise I can’t describe and it went over the mountain,” she said. “It passed the mountain and turned and crashed into the fields. There were flames, we were scared. A lot of cars came, but they couldn’t approach because there were continuous explosions,” she told the BBC.
Serbia’s Defence Minister Nebojša Stefanovic said that the plane was transporting almost 11.5 tons of Serbian-made weapons to Bangladesh but there were intially conflicting reports about what was on board.
Stefanovic said it had included “illuminating mortar mines and training (mines)”, adding that the flight “had all necessary permissions in accordance with international regulations,” but didn’t say if Greece was told.
A director from the arms dealer Valir also told the BBC there were landmines on board but a spokesman for Bangladesh’s military public relations office told the BBC’s Bengali service that the plane contained mortar shells bought from Serbia for the training of army and border guards.
The plane, which was due to make stops in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and India before reaching its final destination of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was being operated by Meridian, a Ukrainian cargo airline with Ukrainian crew.