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Military plane crashes in Hungary; 44 dead

The sole survivor was rushed in critical condition to a hospital in Kosice, on the Slovakian side of the border.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2006 14:34 IST

Forty-four Slovak soldiers were killed when their military plane crashed in northeastern Hungary, Hungary's national police spokesman said on Friday.

"There is only one survivor among the 45 people who were on board the plane. All the other passengers are dead," the spokesman, Laszlo Garamvolgyi, informed a news agency by telephone from Telkibanya, where the accident occurred on late Thursday.

"It's minus 18 degrees Celsius here. The plane's fuselage is completely burnt out. It is absolutely inconceivable that there could be other survivors," Garamvolgyi said.

The sole survivor was rushed in critical condition to a hospital in Kosice, on the Slovakian side of the border, an interior ministry spokesman, Tibor Dobson, said.

"We are trying to piece together the bodies of the victims which were scattered over a very large area," Dobson told from the crash site.

"It is very grim," Dobson added.

Dobson said the AN-24 military plane, which was en route from Kosovo to Slovakia carrying Slovak peacekeeping troops, burst into flames at the crash site near Telkibanya, close to the border with Slovakia.

Dobson said there were 45 people on board including eight crew members, while the Slovak defence ministry reported 43 people on board.

The aircraft crashed around five kilometres from the Slovak border, according to the Slovak army.

Slovakia convened an emergency cabinet meeting after learning of the crash.

"I imagine what the wives, the children, the fathers of the soldiers who were serving their country, are feeling," said a visibly moved Slovakian Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda after the meeting.

The Slovak army chief of staff, put in charge of a crisis unit, had been sent to the scene of the accident to help coordinate rescue operations, said Dzurinda during a news conference just before midnight.

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany personally informed Dzurinda about the accident.

More than 10 ambulances raced to the scene of the crash, emergency services spokesman Pal Gyorfi told.

The search and rescue effort was being slowed by the difficult terrain in this heavily wooded and mountainous region of the country.

Helping in the rescue efforts were border guards as well as 100 military troops dispatched from two nearby Hungarian bases.

The plane was carrying Slovak troops from Pristina, where they were serving as peacekeepers, to Kosice in Slovakia, defence ministry spokesman Istvan Bocskai said.

He said the plane disappeared off the radar screen and was noticed by both Hungarian and Slovak air traffic controllers.

Bocskai said the Hungarian defence ministry's troops at the scene included reconnaissance teams as well as soldiers equipped with night vision glasses to aid in the rescue effort overnight.

Slovak Minister of Defence Juraj Liska said the aircraft apparently lost control before the crash. He would not comment on the causes. "Everything else would be speculation," he said.

The soldiers were returning home after being replaced following a stint in the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo.

Slovakia contributes around 100 soldiers to the NATO-led KFOR force in Kosovo. The unit was to be increased at the end of the month to 135 troops, the Slovakian defence ministry has said.

First Published: Jan 20, 2006 11:36 IST