Plane hit weather station before crashing in Ukraine
A Ukrainian AN-24 plane is seen Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, a day after a crash outside an airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Irina Gorbaseva)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, February 14, 2013 6:44AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2013 11:00AM EST
KIEV, Ukraine -- A plane that crashed at a Ukrainian airport, killing five people, hit the airport's weather station while landing in thick fog, officials said Thursday.
The Soviet-built An-24 twin-engined turboprop carrying soccer fans headed for a match against a German team crashed while trying to land at Donetsk airport Wednesday evening. Of the 44 passengers and eight crew on board, five were killed and nine others injured.
Donetsk Prosecutor Volodymyr Vyshinsky said the plane, which was flying from the Black Sea port of Odesa, grazed the weather station with its left wing as it was approaching the landing strip, then hit the ground with its right wing and broke into two pieces.
Airport weather stations are slim, unmanned towers that hold the sensors and measuring equipment that record weather data. They are separate from the airport's control tower.
Investigators are considering pilot error, faulty ground support equipment and poor weather conditions as possible causes.
Witnesses said the plane quickly caught fire. Passengers were able to escape from the burning aircraft through a hole in the fuselage left by the crash.
The plane's pilot Serhiy Meloshenko blamed bad weather for the accident.
"There was heavy fog," Meloshenko told Channel 5 television in a weak voice from a hospital bed. "The landing strip was poorly visible, or to be more precise, it was not visible at all."
Yuri Molod, head of South Airlines, which operated the flight, told the 1+1 TV channel that the plane was in good condition and blamed the pilot for the crash-landing. Molod said the pilot should not have landed in the fog and should have diverted to another airport.
South Airlines is a small company that mainly operates domestic flights out of the Black Sea port of Odesa. Its planes were ordered grounded pending an investigation into the crash.
The An-24, which first entered service in 1959, is a medium-range plane that has remained a mainstay of carriers across the former Soviet Union even though production ended in 1978. It wasn't clear when the crashed plane was built.
In recent years, former Soviet republics have seen a series of deadly crashes that has tarnished the region's air safety record. Experts blame them on poor maintenance of aging planes, weak government controls, insufficient pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality among carriers.