ATHENS – While no cause has been determined for the crash in Greece of a 50-year-0ld Soviet-era Ukrainian airplane carrying morto ammunition bound for Bangladesh from Serbia, there aren’t many answers about the flight either.
Eight crew members were killed after the pilot radioed he had engine trouble and Greek air traffic controllers gave him the option to try to land at Kavala, near where it crashed, or in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city.
It was carrying 11 ½ tons of stated dangerous cargo but it wasn’t clear whether Greek authorities knew what it was after they complained they weren’t informed by Serbian officials.
The crash near two villages set off explosions for several hours and kept firefighters away and sent Greece scrambling to put together teams of chemical and arms experts to determine if there was toxic fallout.
In a report, Kathimerini said the Ukranian company which operated the plane has only virtual headquarters in Kiev in its home country and has offices in other countries, including Serbia, and it wasn’t clear how well it was maintained.
Sources not identified told the paper that the company had filed an application to fly over Greek territory in a document describing the route from Nis (Serbia) to Dhaka (Bangladesh) over a total of 10 countries.
After flying over Serbia, North Macedonia and Greece, the aircraft was to move over the airspace of Turkey, Israel and Jordan, where it would make a stopover before continuing the flight over Saudi Arabia to the east.
The same sources said the plan referred to the transport of “dangerous goods,” which increases the cost to an airline operating such flights although it wasn’t said if the cargo was particularly specified.
The newspaper said officials from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ diplomatic office and the General Staff of the Armed Forces provided immediate information on the content, so that Greek army officials would know what to expect, although the time line wasn’t given.
Another question was whether the Antonov-type plan had time to land, the black box that was salvaged expected to provide answers although its signal showed the pilot, despite knowing of engine trouble, took a circuitous route headed for the island of Limnos in the Aegean before turning back toward Kavala.
The sources said that likely saved lives as the plane otherwise would have crashed somewhere near the densely-populated area around the major airport in Thessaloniki where it didn’t try to land.