More than 40 killed as Slovak military plane crashes

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The Independent Online

At least 42 people were killed when a Slovak military plane carrying troops back from Kosovo crashed on a mountainside in northeastern Hungary, officials said today.

Only one person survived after the AN-24 aircraft went down yesterday near the Slovak border, the Interior Minister Monika Lamperth said.

"It was very clear at the site that there could be no other survivors," she told reporters in Budapest, the Hungarian capital.

Lamperth also said that, based upon the passenger list provided by Slovak authorities, there were 43 people aboard the airplane. Police officials initially said the plane was carrying 45 people.

The Hungarian Defence Minister Ferenc Juhasz said the survivor of the crash, who suffered head wounds and burns, was in "satisfactory" condition at a hospital in the Slovak city of Kosice, about nine miles from the crash site.

Juhasz said the survivor, whose identity was not released, was able to call his wife on his cellular phone from the scene of the accident.

Among the plane's passengers were Slovak soldiers returning from a NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, Juhasz said.

The crash occurred about 6 kilometers (4 miles) from Hejce, which is around 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Budapest.

Lamperth said the plane plowed through trees along a 600-meter (yard) stretch before slamming into the mountainside. Air traffic controllers lost sight of the aircraft just after 7:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) and authorities began receiving reports of a crash from eyewitnesses shortly thereafter.

A second Slovak military aircraft, an AN-26 flying a few minutes behind — was able to see the burning remains of the crashed plane on the ground.

Juhasz ruled out a terrorist attack as a possible cause of the crash, but said it would take up to two months until a full report was completed.

The minister said search and rescue efforts on Gergely Hill near Hejce, where the crash occurred, were being greatly impaired by inclement weather.

"Visibility is 10 meters, the snow is knee-deep and temperatures are well below freezing," Juhasz said, also confirming earlier police statements that no weapons, ammunition or explosives were aboard the crashed plane.

Lamperth said some 530 Hungarian and Slovak personnel were at the scene.

Czech news agency CTK quoted Slovak media as saying that the Slovak government had declared a 24-hour mourning period for the victims of the crash starting Monday at noon.

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