World News

Airplane with 43 on board crashes in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - A local Pamir Airways plane with 38 passengers and five crew on board, including six foreigners, crashed in Afghanistan’s inaccessible, mountainous Hindu Kush region near Kabul Monday, officials said.

An Afghan man looks through binoculars at the mountains where an Afghan Pamir Airways plane is believed to have crashed in the Salang pass May 17, 2010.REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

The airplane was en route from the northern city of Kunduz to the capital and went missing around 8 a.m. (0330 GMT). Rain and snow have hampered efforts by NATO and Afghan teams to find the plane’s wreckage and there is no word on casualties.

“I can confirm that an aircraft carrying 38 passengers plus five crew has crashed somewhere in Salang Pass,” Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told Reuters after receiving a report from the private Afghan airline.

Three Britons were on board the flight, the British Embassy in Kabul said. One American was also on the plane, the U.S. Embassy in the city said.

The Salang pass lies around 100 km (60 miles) north of Kabul at an altitude of about 13,350 feet. The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but it came amid cloudy and rainy weather in Kabul and its surrounding areas.

The head of Pamir Airways and officials from the interior and transport ministries went to the Salang pass to help the search but no wreckage had been found yet.

A deputy minister for civil aviation and transport, Raaz Mohammad Alami, told Reuters the plane was an Antonov 24 and that six of the passengers were foreigners. He had no further details on their identities.

One Afghan passenger on board worked for GTZ, a German state aid organisation.

“One of our national staff members was on board this aircraft,” Andreas Clausing, head of Germany’s development agency in Afghanistan, told Reuters.

The terrain and weather in the mountains around Kabul are extremely inhospitable and it could take some time before the aircraft is found.

Pamir Airways is one of three major private Afghan airlines that operates mostly domestic routes across Afghanistan.

Aircraft belonging to the military and civilian contractors crash fairly regularly in Afghanistan, although crashes involving planes from commercial carriers are less common.

The last major crash involving a passenger aircraft in Afghanistan happened in February 2005, when a Boeing 737 operated by private Afghan carrier Kam Air crashed in a snow storm in a similar area near Kabul, killing 104 passengers and crew.

Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul and Mohammad Hamed in Kunduz; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Paul Tait