The plane was carrying equipment including relieving mortar shells and practice grenades to Bangladesh when it crashed near Eleftheroupoli in the northeastern region of Kavala, Serbian Defense Minister Nebojša Stefanović said, according to Reuters. He added that all eight crew members had died.
According to the Greek public broadcaster ERT, the plane was carrying “dangerous cargo”. Smoke and intense heat, as well as a white substance found near the crash site, raised concerns about potential toxicity, said Marios Apostolidis, a major general with the Greek fire service.
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 on fire when it crashed. There was a big explosion, like a mushroom, like an atomic bomb,” an unnamed male resident told ERT.
“My stomach cramped when I saw that mushroom,” said another resident.
The Antonov 12, operated by Ukrainian cargo airline Meridian, crashed shortly before 11 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET) on Saturday, ERT reported.
It was en route from Serbia to Bangladesh via Jordan when it crashed, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook on Sunday. The cause of the accident is believed to be an engine failure.
All eight crew members were Ukrainian citizens, Nikolenko added. He said an operations headquarters had been set up by the Ukrainian consulate in Thessaloniki, where Ukrainian consular officers were working with local rescue and law enforcement teams at the crash site.
After the crash, 15 firefighters with seven vehicles immediately arrived on the scene, while additional fire brigades followed, including special units with two “special” vehicles for collecting hazardous materials, 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 units” 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 toxicity of the scene is before moving on to repair work. Authorities have not yet recovered the plane’s flight recorder.
The Greek foreign ministry said it was “deeply saddened” to hear that there were no survivors after the crash.
“Very saddened by the news of the crash of a cargo plane in northern Greece, near Kavala,” the foreign ministry tweeted. “We extend our sincere condolences to the families of the 8 Ukrainian crew members who tragically lost their lives in the plane crash.”
Landmine clearance units of the Greek army were on the scene and a “special” chemical defense team was on the way. Electricity was cut off in some parts of the area after the crash, but power has now largely been restored, the ministry added.
Talia Kayali reports from Atlanta. Chris Liakos reports from London. Teele Rebane reported from Estonia.