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62 Spain soldiers killed in crash

Trabzon (Turkey), May 26 (Reuters): A plane carrying 62 Spanish peacekeepers returning from Afghanistan crashed in Turkey early today and all aboard, including 13 crew, were killed, officials and Turkish media said.

The Ukrainian Yak-42 crashed as it tried to land in thick fog near the Black Sea city of Trabzon. It left the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek yesterday and was flying to Zaragoza, Spain.

A Spanish defence ministry official said: “We can confirm 62 Spanish soldiers returning from Afghanistan died in the crash.” The ministry said it appeared bad weather was to blame. “The cause, according to initial indications, was the dense fog in the area. The plane tried to land due to the strong turbulence that was occurring during flight as a result of the bad meteorological conditions,” it said.

Defence minister Federico Trillo was set to travel to Turkey today with a team of forensic experts and an air force accident investigation team, the ministry said. Turkey’s transportation ministry said the plane had asked for permission to land at Trabzon to refuel, but communications had been lost when the plane was southwest of the airport. The Pope and Afghanistan both sent messages of condolence. “The peacekeepers who perished in this tragic incident contributed toward world peace, but unfortunately paid with their lives...while heading back home,” Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Pope expressed his sorrow in a telegram to the bishop of Madrid.

Volodymyr Gorbanovsky, deputy general director of Mediterranean Airlines, the aircraft’s Ukrainian owners, said 13 crew were aboard. He said preliminary information indicated the plane had veered from its flight path because of fog.

Turkish officials had earlier said there were 12 crew. They said no one survived the crash.

One witness told Anatolian he saw the plane on fire while it was still in the air.

”When I looked at the sky, I saw a burning airplane. About two minutes later, I heard two explosions, then a few more explosions,” villager Adil Yilmaz said.

CHARRED BODIES

Charred bodies were strewn across a steep hillside near the small town of Macka, 35 km (22 miles) from the airport. Rescue workers said they were taking remains to Trabzon.

The plane was split into two large pieces, with the nose facing the top of the hill and the tail further down. Bits of smouldering wreckage lay scattered across the wooded area.

A Trabzon airport official told Reuters paramilitary police had recovered around 40 bodies so far.

The Spanish Defence Ministry said the soldiers were from Burgos and Zaragoza in northern Spain and had served in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) monitoring Kabul.

Spain contributed 141 peacekeepers to the force that helps to maintain security in the Afghan capital.

A major military and civilian plane builder in Soviet times, Ukraine's air industry has been plagued by a growing number of crashes and malfunctions.

Earlier this month the doors of a Ukrainian-owned Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane burst open in mid-air, sending what is believed to have been at least 14 passengers to their deaths in Congo.

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