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Afghanistan: Wreckage Of Missing Plane Found

An Afghan soldier guards the Kam Air office in Kabul 5 February 2005 -- The wreckage of an Afghan airliner missing for two days has been found in mountains near Kabul.

All 104 passengers and crew were killed. The plane vanished from radar screens on 3 February shortly after it turned away from Kabul airport in a snowstorm, sparking a huge search operation by Afghan and international troops.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told RFE/RL the wreckage has been found, and that there were no survivors.

"Today in the morning, after a short break, the search operation conducted by the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry, coalition forces, and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces started again. Some parts of the plane were found between the Bagrami district and the Band-e Ghazi area in the Tsaparai mountains. Unfortunately, the plane was completely destroyed. All the passengers -- mostly Afghans but including some foreigners -- were killed," Mashal said.

The Boeing 737 had flown on 3 February from Herat in the west of Afghanistan and was approaching Kabul airport when it was turned away because of heavy snow.

Shortly after, it disappeared from radar screens, sparking a nearly two-day search by hundreds of Afghan and international troops.

They were hampered in their efforts by snow and freezing fog enveloping the tall mountains that ring the Afghan capital.

But then today, a NATO helicopter spotted the crash site, just east of the capital.

Mashal said rescue teams have now arrived at the scene, but that snow is making it difficult to recover the bodies:

"The area is covered by snow, the bodies have not yet been recovered, they are all under the snow. The police that reached the wreckage are still working there and our quick-response forces with Kabul police are in the area. They will work to collect the bodies. The number will be announced later," Mashal said.

If all 104 on board are confirmed dead, the incident will be Afghanistan's worst-ever aviation disaster.

At least 19 foreigners were believed to be on the plane -- mainly Italians, Russians, Americans, and Turks.

The plane was operated by Kam Air, the first private airline in post-Taliban Afghanistan, and leased from a company in Kyrgyzstan.

The commercial director for the United Arab Emirates-based air company which leased the Boeing to Kam Air told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service the eight-member crew included two Afghans, four Russians, one Canadian, and one Moldovan.

Kam Air uses leased Boeing and Antonov planes for its mainly domestic flights.

However, there have been concerns about the safety of its planes as well as those of state-owned Ariana Airlines.