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Friday, December 19, 1997 Published at 18:59 GMT


Search for crashed plane hampered by weather
image: [ Soldiers were forced back into trucks after the weather closed in ]
Soldiers were forced back into trucks after the weather closed in

Army officials in Greece say they have orders to start scaling down their search for the wreckage of a Ukrainian passenger plane which came down on Wednesday as it approached the northern city of Salonika.

Freezing temperatures, dense fog and low clouds have hampered the search operation.The plane, which was on a flight from Kiev, was carrying about 70 people.

Officials say their main hope of finding the wreckage lies with a NATO search plane, which can detect metal on the ground.

[ image: Soldiers continued the search on foot]
Soldiers continued the search on foot
More than 5,000 soldiers assembled in mountain villages on Friday to intensify the hunt. But the weather proved too much for some of the troops.

Near Fotini, about 40km (25 miles) southwest of Salonica, the commander ordered the soldiers back into trucks after the fog thickened. They then moved to a lower altitude.

[ image:  ]
The search was concentrated on the lonely ranges above Katerini, about 50 km (30 miles) south of the port of Salonica. But teams extended over a broad arch from near Salonica to the slopes of the 2,917-metre high Mount Olympus, about 70 km (40 miles) south-west of the city.

Crash investigators appeared to move away from mechanical failure and study a combination of other factors: harsh weather and a cockpit crew that had never before flown to Salonica, whose airport approach is considered a potential challenge to pilots.

A synopsis of the flight transcript, which has not been made public, suggested the pilot thought he was over sea moving into landing position when in fact the plane may have been deep in the mountains.

Salonica's airport also does not have a radar, which could have helped the control tower assist the pilot in ascertaining the plane's position.

Air Force General, Athanasios Tzoganis, chief of the joint military staff, said it seemed "human error" played a role in the crash.

Leonid Pogrebnyak, President of the charter company, Aerosvit, said there were 70 people on board the flight from Odessa, Ukraine: an eight-member crew, 34 Greeks, 24 Ukrainians, two Poles and one German. Five children were among the passengers.

The Soviet-designed Yak-42 was about halfway through its expected service period of 25 years and 30,000 flight hours.

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