Polish plane crash kills 20

Updated: 2008-01-24 15:17

WARSAW, Poland -- A Polish military plane carrying 20 passengers and crew crashed in flames in northwestern Poland, killing all aboard including an air force general, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Thursday.

Polish military transport aircraft CASA C-295 is seen in this undated file photo. Several Polish air force commanders were feared killed on January 23 when their military plane with 19 people aboard crashed on the way back from a conference on aviation safety. [Agencies]

The plane, with 16 members of the Polish armed forces and four crew members aboard, was approaching an air base at Miroslawiec shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday when it went down in a forested area, officials said.

"Soldiers, husbands, and fathers have died, and that is the most tragic result of this catastrophe," said Tusk. He called it a "huge loss for the Polish air force."

The passengers, who were returning from a flight safety conference, included air brigade commander Brig. Gen. Andrzej Andrzejewski and Col. Jerzy Pilat, commander of the Miroslawiec base, said Defense Minister Bogdan Klich. The military branches and ranks of the other victims weren't immediately available.

Tusk said it particularly lamentable that the victims "were returning to their units from a conference devoted" to flight safety.

The Spanish-built CASA C-295M transport plane was about 2 miles from the airstrip when it clipped trees on its approach, crashed into a wooded area and burst into flames, officials said.

"We don't know what the cause of the crash was right now," Maj. Bogdan Ziolkowski, a spokesman for the base, told The Associated Press.

Tusk said emergency crews were still looking for the black box in their effort to clarify what went wrong.

The plane had more people on board when it took off from Warsaw, but had already landed at three other military airports. It had two more planned stops in Swidwin and Krakow.

Polish media were describing the accident as one of the worst military disasters in more than three decades. President Lech Kaczynski was cutting short a visit to Croatia to return to Poland on Thursday, a spokesman said.

A Polish military expert, Grzegorz Holdanowicz, said it was the first air disaster involving a CASA C-295M, a plane he called one of the safest in the Polish air force. The Polish military also uses the plane type in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where it supports the U.S.-led operations.

The pilots of Wednesday's flight were from a transport squadron based in Balice, near Krakow, that had flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, the squadron spokesman, Cpt. Piotr Jaszczuk said.

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