The plane was transporting equipment including illuminating mortar shells and training shells to Bangladesh when it crashed near Eleftheroupoli in the northeastern Kavala region, the Serbian Minister of Defense Nebojša Stefanović said, according to Reuters. He added that all eight crew members had been killed.
According to Greek public broadcaster ERT, the aircraft was carrying “dangerous cargo.” Smoke and intense heat, as well as a white substance found near the crash site, raised concerns over possible toxicity, Marios Apostolidis, a major general in the Greek fire brigade, said.
Officials urged people living near the crash site not to approach the wreckage and to keep windows closed. Locals described a scene of devastation. “The plane was already burning while it crashed. There was a big explosion, like a mushroom, like a nuclear bomb,” one unnamed male resident told ERT.
“My stomach clenched, when I saw that mushroom,” another resident said.
The Antonov 12, which was operated by Ukrainian cargo airline Meridian, crashed shortly before 11 pm local time (4 pm ET) Saturday, ERT reported.
It was traveling from Serbia to Bangladesh via Jordan when it crashed, Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook Sunday. The cause of the accident is believed to be engine failure.
All eight crew members were Ukrainian citizens, Nikolenko added. He said an operational headquarters was set up by the Ukrainian consulate in Thessaloniki, where Ukrainian consular officers were working at the crash site with local rescue and law enforcement teams.
Following the crash, 15 firefighters with seven vehicles immediately went to the scene while additional firefighting forces followed including special units with two “special” vehicles for the collection of hazardous material, the ministry said, adding that the area of the crash was immediately cordoned off. and a security perimeter was established.
There are currently 30 firefighters and “special forces” on the scene as well as police and other rescue teams, the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement.
Experts are also working to determine what the white substance is and what the scene’s toxicity is before proceeding with recovery operations. Authorities have yet to recover the plane’s flight recorder.
The Greek foreign ministry said it was “profoundly saddened” to hear there were no survivors following the crash.
“Profoundly saddened by the news of the cargo plane crash in northern Greece, near Kavala,” the foreign ministry tweeted. “We express our sincere condolences to the families of the 8 Ukrainian crew members who tragically lost their lives in the plane crash.”
Land mine clearance units of the Greek Army were on the scene and a “special” chemical defense team was on its way. The electricity was cut off in some parts of the area after the crash but the power has now been restored for the most part, the ministry added.
Talia Kayali reported from Atlanta. Chris Liakos reported from London. Teele Rebane reported from Estonia.