- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey — An airplane carrying Spanish peacekeepers crashed into a mountain in northeastern Turkey yesterday while making its third attempt to land in thick fog. All 75 persons aboard were killed, officials said.

The Spanish armed forces described the crash as Spain’s worst military accident.

The Russian-made Yak-42D was flying from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Zaragoza, Spain, and was scheduled to make a refueling stop in the Black Sea port of Trabzon, the Spanish Defense Ministry said. Turkey’s Transportation Ministry said the plane also made a stopover in Bishkek, Krygyzstan.

The plane hit a mountain slope near the town of Macka, 22 miles south of Trabzon, officials said.

Spain’s Defense Ministry said Monday that the “cause of the accident from our first impressions was the thick fog in the area. The plane was trying to land because of heavy turbulence caused by bad weather conditions.”

The airplane, which belonged to Ukrainian-Mediterranean Airlines, carried 62 Spanish peacekeepers, 12 Ukrainian crew members and the Belorussian flight manager, officials said. The peacekeepers comprised 41 army soldiers and 21 air force personnel, the Spanish Defense Ministry said.

The plane, which apparently carried ammunition belonging to the Spanish soldiers, burst into flames and exploded upon impact. Turkish soldiers saw unexploded hand grenades among the wreckage and evacuated the site, fearing further explosions, CNN-Turk reported.

Turkish soldiers retrieved more than 30 charred bodies from the wreckage, said Deputy Gov. Nihat Nalbant of Trabzon. He denied reports that the plane’s black-box flight recorder was found.

The flight recorder could indicate whether there were any failures in the aircraft’s operations or its systems.

“It will be very difficult to identify them,” the governor said. “Most bodies are in pieces or dismembered.”

Television footage showed a huge pile of twisted and burned metal covering a wide area. Reporters at the scene said soldiers’ diaries, family pictures, music CDs and a half-burned camera were scattered among the debris.

One witness, Sait Topcu, told CNN-Turk the plane was exploding in flames when he reached the site. “I had to wait 15 to 20 minutes for the explosions to end before I could get near to it,” he said.

The army troops were from an engineering regiment and had just finished a four-month tour of duty, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported. Until now, there had been no deaths among Spanish troops in the 17 months they had been involved in the Afghan peacekeeping mission, the newspaper reported.

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