- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Russian-designed Ilyushin-76 cargo plane chartered by the U.S. military crashed into a mountaintop in eastern Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday, as fears rose for the fate of its nine-member crew.

The plane hit a mountain peak late Tuesday night, around 11 p.m., said Sayed Aleem Agha, the top official in Sayagred district of Parwan province, north of Kabul.

Mr. Agha, who said the mountaintop was visible from his office, said he feared that the crew was killed but that rescue workers had not yet arrived at the crash site.

“I saw a huge fire as a result of the crash,” he said. “The fire lasted for a long time.”

The plane belonged to an Azerbaijani company, Silk Way Airlines, whose deputy director, Adyl Katsymov, said the fate of the crew was unknown. The flight originated from the Azerbaijan capital of Baku, said Kabul airport official Yaqub Rasoliob.

Anar Aghayev, the deputy chief of mission for the Azerbaijani Embassy in Pakistan, said four of the crew members were Azerbaijani citizens, three were from Uzbekistan, and two were from Russia.

No Americans were aboard the plane, according to U.S. Army Maj. James Lowe, a spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Maj. Lowe said the cargo included four pallets of heavy equipment, describing the flight as a standard shipment into Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The plane crashed while flying at an altitude of about 12,500 feet, said British Maj. Tim James, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. There was no insurgent activity in the area at the time of the crash, he said.

According to the Azerbaijan Civil Aviation Administration, the plane was built in 2005 and underwent its latest full technical inspection in February, with a subsequent technical assessment in June. The captain had more than 4,500 hours of flight time.

The Ilyushin-76 is a Russian-designed cargo plane similar in size to a Boeing C-17.

A joint Afghan-NATO team, including Afghan interior, defense and transportation ministry officials, has gone to the crash site to investigate, said Afghan Transport Ministry spokesman Nangyalai Qalatwal.

Associated Press writer Aida Sultanova in Baku, Azerbaijan, contributed to this report.

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