Pilot error blamed for Turkey plane crash

Pilot error has been blamed after a Ukrainian transport plane crashed in thick fog in Turkey's Black Sea region, killing 62 Spanish peacekeepers and a 12-man Ukrainian crew.

The plane was flying the Spanish troops home from missions in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The Ukrainian-operated Yak-42 transport aircraft crashed on its second attempt to land at the port of Trabzon for refuelling, civil aviation officials said.

The plane crashed into the hills behind Trabzon, city governor Aslan Yildirim said.

"Even if it is still too early to state definitively, it seems that there was a pilot error because the plane hit the mountain for no apparent reason," said a Turkish civil aviation official, who requested anonymity.

Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma ordered an inquiry into the crash and sent condolences to the families of the 12 Ukrainians and to Spain's King Juan Carlos, his spokeswoman Olena Hromnitska said, quoted by Interfax news agency.

The crash of the Yak-42, owned by Ukrainian charter company Sredizemnomorskiye, is the third accident involving Ukrainian planes in less than six months.

But a company official defended their safety record, saying: "This airplane belonged to our company and followed all security norms."

The Turkish aviation official said Trabzon was equipped to modern standards.

"The conversation between the control tower and the cockpit is now being decoded," he said.

The Spanish defence ministry said the dead included 40 army soldiers, 21 members of the air force and one civil guard.

Pope John Paul II, France and Germany, as well as Turkey, sent condolences to Madrid over the tragedy.

Spanish Defence Minister Federico Trillo went to Turkey to help arrange for the repatriation of the bodies.

He toured the crash site accompanied by his Turkish counterpart Vecdi Gonul and Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey.

All the bodies have now been recovered along with the victims' personal belongings, including mobile phones and documents, Turkish television reported.

The aircraft took off from Kabul late Sunday, stopped off in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and was headed for Zaragoza, Spain.

Other Turkish aviation officials, cited by the Anatolia news agency, said the pilots of the Yak-42 missed a first attempt to land at Trabzon as the plane was flying too high and was buffeted by winds.

A second approach was to be made from the sea when the plane headed into a mountainous region, 35 kilometres from the airport, and dropped off radar screens, the officials said.

Television shots of the zone showed debris from the plane scattered on a steep mountain slope shrouded in a thick, morning fog.

Witnesses, quoted by TRT television and Anatolia, said they saw a ball of fire in the sky as they headed to the mosque for morning prayers.

"I heard the noise of an engine, at first I thought it was a helicopter. Then I saw it was a plane on fire," Adil Yilmaz told Anatolia.

Two minutes later, he said he heard two loud explosions.

Turkish soldiers and firefighters were searching through the debris for the plane's flight recorders as a light rain fell on the area.

Spanish army investigators and doctors were also due to join the operation.Back