Cargo plane carrying munitions to Bangladesh crashes in Greece

A cargo plane carrying munitions from Serbia to Bangladesh crashed in northern Greece late on Saturday, killing all its crew members and sparking a large-scale operation to secure the site amid a swirl of speculation online.

Published : 17 July 2022, 04:22 AM
Updated : 17 July 2022, 04:48 PM

Serbian authorities said the plane, an Antonov An-12BK aircraft owned by the private Ukrainian cargo carrier Meridian, was headed to Bangladesh. It was on its way from Serbia to Jordan, flight records show, when it crashed in northern Greece, the Washington Post reports.

The Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate in Bangladesh confirmed reports in the international media about the plane's cargo. The aircraft was carrying training mortar shells procured from Serbia for the Bangladesh Army and Border Guard Bangladesh, the ISPR said on Sunday.

However, the consignment was covered by insurance and there were no weapons in it, the ISPR added.

The flight was scheduled to land at Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on Sunday midnight, according to the airport's Executive Director Group Captain Kamrul Islam.

A drone view shows the burning debris at the crash site of an Antonov An-12 cargo plane owned by a Ukrainian company, near Kavala, Greece, July 16, 2022. ENA Channel/Handout via REUTERS

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Serbia sold $266 million worth of munitions to 14 countries between 2006 and 2021. Bangladesh and Myanmar were the biggest buyers during that time, racking up bills of $56 million each.

Drone images from the crash site in the northern Greek city of Kavala showed smouldering debris from the aircraft strewn in fields, Reuters reports.

Greek authorities said there were eight crew members on board and a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said they were all Ukrainian citizens.

Serbia's defence minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the plane was carrying 11.5 tonnes of products, including mortar and training shells, made by its defence industry. The buyer of the cargo was the defence ministry of Bangladesh, he said. It had taken off at 1840 GMT Saturday from Nis in Serbia.

Denys Bogdanovych, Meridian's general director, confirmed Serbia's account of events. "This is not related to Ukraine or Russia," Bogdanovych told Reuters by telephone.

Witnesses said the aircraft came down in a ball of flames before exploding on impact in corn fields around midnight local time. Earlier the pilot had reported engine trouble and had requested an emergency landing.


Greek state TV ERT said the aircraft's signal was lost soon after the pilot requested an emergency landing. Amateur video footage showed the aircraft in flames descending fast before hitting the ground in what appeared to be an explosion.

Debris is seen at the crash site of an Antonov An-12 cargo plane owned by a Ukrainian company, near Kavala, Greece, July 17, 2022. REUTERS

"I wonder how it didn't fall on our houses," one witness, Aimilia Tsaptanova, told reporters. "It was full of smoke, it had a noise I can't describe and went over the mountain. It passed the mountain and turned and crashed into the fields."

Greek authorities said the special disaster response unit and military staff, including mine clearance units, had been dispatched to the scene. They also banned people from moving around the area and advised residents to keep doors and windows shut.

A fire brigade official told reporters on Sunday morning that firefighters "felt their lips burning" and white dust was floating in the air.

Some businesses and households in the area suffered power cuts after the crash, possibly because the plane may have cut through cables or got burned by the explosion, local media said. More explosions occurred during the night after the crash.

Greece's foreign ministry expressed condolences to the families of the Ukrainian crew.


Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, speaking to reporters at his office, said Bangladesh is financially “safe” because such consignments are usually insured.

Asked about the cost of the munitions, he said the ministry will contact the authorities who purchased the shells for details. “Since these are insured, we’re covered.”

He also said the Greek authorities were investigating whether it was an accident or an act of sabotage. “Until now, it appears to be an accident.”

A reporter questioned hiring a Ukrainian airline to transport cargo amid the Russia-Ukraine war. The foreign secretary defended the decision, saying: “It could happen to any plane. We can’t comment on this before talking to the supplier…Maybe it was the supplier who made the [transportation] arrangements.”

Besides the Bangladesh embassy in Greece, the mission in Italy was also working to communicate with the local authorities, he said.