Spain flies plane crash victims back for funeral

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The Independent Online

Aircraft carrying the bodies of 62 Spanish peace-keepers who were killed in an air crash in Turkey arrived in Spain yesterday.

As the bodies arrived, doubts increased over the reliability of the Russian-built plane involved in the accident.

Three Hercules C-130 planes bearing the coffins landed at Torrejon de Ardoz military base near Madrid. During the open-air funeral service beside the coffins, angry cries of "scrap-metal planes" could be heard as King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia consoled grieving families.

Spain's Defence Minister, Federico Trillo, has agreed to open an inquiry and to appear in parliament to explain probable causes. Mr Trillo insisted the crashed jet was "absolutely safe" and said yesterday that pilot error might have caused the crash. Initially, he blamed fog and strong winds.

Mr Trillo complained yesterday to Nato's secretary general, Lord Robertson, about a statement by Nato's spokesman, Yves Brodeur, that the alliance was "just an intermediary" in hiring the Ukrainian Yakovlev-42 plane.

The minister said Nato's Namsa logistics agency had "chosen, revised, maintained and inspected" the plane. He described Mr Brodeur's comment as "frivolous, if not irresponsible". Namsa said Spain was the only country to request its help in chartering troop transporters.

The Defence Ministry said Spain's contract was not with the jet's Ukrainian owners, UM Air, but with a British intermediary.

Norway's armed forces said yesterday that they stopped using UM Air in February because its planes did not meet international safety standards. Finnish officials said they also cancelled contracts with UM Air because of poor maintenance and safety measures.