On a peaceful Saturday night in northern Greece, a plane caught fire and crashed, scattering debris in a nearby field.

Residents living near the crash site captured the moment the Ukrainian-based aircraft, Antonov-12, plummeted to the ground on July 16 near the city of Kavala, Greece. All eight crew members lost their lives.

An-12 is a Soviet-built turboprop aircraft owned and operated by cargo carrier Meridian LTD from Ukraine with a call sign MEM 3032.

The cargo plane was transporting munitions and explosive materials from Serbia to Bangladesh as part of an arms sale, Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told reporters on Sunday.

“Sadly, according to the information we have received, the eight crew members died in the crash,” Stefanovic disclosed.

AFP Photo Greece Incident
The cargo plane was carrying around 11 tonnes of weapons and mines to Bangladesh when it crashed on Saturday night, said Serbia’s defense minister. (Source: @AFP/Twitter)

Stefanovic also revealed that the cargo plane “took off from Nis airport in southern Serbia at around 8:40 PM (18:40 GMT) on Saturday, carrying an estimated 11 tonnes of military industry goods,” including “illuminating mortar mines and training” to the Bangladeshi defense ministry. He added that the flight “had all necessary permissions in accordance with international regulations.”

The pilot reportedly requested an emergency landing at Kavala airport shortly after takeoff. However, it could not reach the runway, roughly 50 kilometers away. Instead, the plane crashed on farmland between two villages in the Piaggio municipality and dragged on the ground for 170 meters before disintegrating.

The next day, Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko confirmed that the primary cause of the accident was engine failure.

One of the locals told a state ERT News reporter that he knew something was wrong when he heard the aircraft’s engine noise. He recalled, “At 22:45 [19:45 GMT], I was surprised by the sound of the engine of the aircraft,” before going outside to witness the plummeting fireball.

Watch the footage below captured by a resident at about 22:45 local time (19:45 GMT), minutes before An-12 hit the ground.

Toxic fumes

First responders could not approach the wreckage due to thick smoke and an intense smell that they deemed toxic. So instead, they used drones to survey the site simultaneously, setting up a cordoned-off area at about 400 meters.

Residents within two kilometers of the site have been warned not to go outside for the time being. Officials also advised keeping their windows closed and wearing masks.

Two firefighters were reportedly taken to the hospital the next day with breathing problems due to inhaling toxic fumes. Authorities have thus expanded the security perimeter.

Meanwhile, the Greek army’s Special Joint Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Unit have cleared the way for forensics experts to move in and recover all of the bodies before sunset.

On the other hand, the explosive disposal experts were sent to inspect the site for safety before the Civil Aviation Authority experts entered to retrieve the plane’s black boxes.

Not related to Russia’s war in Ukraine

Contrary to assumptions circulating on the internet, the aircraft crash is unrelated to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

To reiterate, Serbia’s defense minister said the military equipment shipment was meant to arrive in Bangladesh as part of an arms sale. However, it was due to make stops in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and India before its final destination in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

“The fake reports saying the plane was carrying Serbian weapons to Ukraine are absolutely inaccurate and malicious,” Stefanovic stressed.

The cargo plane is, however, owned and operated by a Ukrainian-based company, and the deceased crew members were all Ukrainian citizens.

The Bangladesh military also verified this, saying “they had been the intended recipients of the cargo.”

Moreover, in an interview, David DesRoches, a professor at the National Defense University, remarked how Ukraine was among the world’s air cargo services before the Russian invasion in February.

“This isn’t some shady, fly-by-night [operation]; it’s an established, well-accepted practice—although they are not subject to some of the same scrutiny a western country would be, they are not part of any European institutions,” he said. “But [they] are a known quantity.”