By George Gilson

Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) today officially released details of the crash of a Ukrainian Antonov An-12 cargo aircraft, carrying 11.5 tonnes of munitions, including mines, near the port city of Kavala, northern Greece, last night.

The crew of eight, the only passengers on the aircraft, were all killed in the crash.

They were all Ukrainian citizens according to the Ukrainian foreign ministry.

The pilot had reported engine trouble and that one engine had caught fire but the plane crashed before the aircraft was able to reach the airport at Chrysoupolis, near Kavala, where it was permitted to land.

The plane, listed in the Ukrainian aircraft register, took off from an airport in the Serbian city of Niš.

Ukrainian Meridian Air Cargo owned the plane

It is unclear why a Ukrainian plane, owned by Meridian Air Cargo, was leased to transport Serbian munitions, or why there were conflicting accounts about the destination.

Supreme Court Prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos has ordered the Thrace district appellate court prosecutor to oversee all investigations and interrogations regarding the cause of the crash.

A representative of Meridian, Denis Bogdarevich, said that the aircraft’s destination was Amman, Jordan, and that it was a Serbian lease.

Serbian Defence Minister says no connection to Ukraine war

Serbian Defence Minister Nebojša Stefanović (whose ministry was responsible for the sale of the munitions), however, announced that the destination of the aircraft was Bangladesh, and noted that it was a private Ukrainian aircraft.

He said the plane was carrying «illuminating mortar mines and training mines».

The weapons shipment was not linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine, he maintained.

«Unfortunately, some media have speculated that the plane was carrying weapons destined for Ukraine but that is completely untrue,» Stefanović said.

Flight plan

According to the flight plan submitted to Serbia’s Civil Aviation Authority, the aircraft’s destination was Dhaka – with stops in Amman and Riyadh, Saudia Arabia. The reason for the second stop, a distance of 1,300km, or about two hours from Amman, is unclear.

International organisations have warned of the prospect of arms and munitions circulating on the black market being transported to Ukraine for its defence against the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian foreign ministry officials today traveled to inspect the site where the cargo plane crashed, Bloomberg reported.

Unprecedentedly large Serbian arms sale to Bangladesh

This would have been the first major sale of Serbian arms to Bangladesh – there have been no reports of a bilateral arms procurement agreement prior to the crash – which has traditionally purchased arms from Russia and China, though it has significantly increased spending and the span of its procurement programme to include other countries, such as Turkey, from which in the first four months of 2021 alone, Bangladesh imported $60mn worth of arms.

Serbian exports to Bangladesh in 2021 (January-October)amounted to just $1.058 mn according to the Bangladeshi foreign ministry. states that the sale of “arms and ammunition, parts and accessories” by Serbia to Bangladesh in 2019 amounted to a mere $766.

Greek Civil Aviation Authority Announcement

The CAA announcement said that the probe is being carried out by the Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board and that the aircraft was carrying 11.5 tonnes of “dangerous goods”.

The aircraft entered Greek airspace at 22:09 local time and at 22:37 the pilot informed the Athens-Macedonia control tower that it will not proceed to its destination due to an operational problem and would return to Niš  .

At 22:42, flying east of the Chalkidiki peninisula and approaching Thessaloniki the pilot informed the Thessaloniki air traffic control tower that engine four had caught fire – “May day, fire on engine four”.

The CAA immediately declared a state of emergency and activated related procedures.

At 22:45, the pilot contacted the Kavala tower to say that it must make an emergency landing and it was given permission to land at the Chrysoupolis airport, near Kavala, which was nearer.

Two minutes later the aircraft was lost from the radar.

A video of the last minutes before the flaming aircraft plunged to the ground into fields shows shows three bright apparent explosions.

A search-and-rescue mission was immediately launched and residents in surrounding areas were warned to stay in their homes, wear masks, and keep windows closed and air conditioners shut off as it was unclear what the “dangerous cargo” was comprised of.

Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defence experts to examine crash site

Further questions about the cargo of the aircraft arise from the fact that the Hellenic National Defence General Staff sent to the crash site a special contingent of 14 experts in Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defence.

They will examine an unidentified white substance spotted at the crash site and presumably check for radioactive materials – concerns over which would justify authorities’ instructions to citizens to stay indoors with doors and windows shut – that could derive from a number of sources.

Radioactive powder is one of the substances used in dirty bombs, which scatter radioactive dust, smoke, or other material in order to cause radioactive contamination.

Two firefighters were taken to hospital with respiratory problems.