Wreckage of Missing Afghan Plane Is Found

A NATO (search) helicopter searching for an Afghan jetliner that disappeared during a snowstorm with 104 people aboard found what appeared to be the wreckage of the plane Saturday in the forbidding mountains east of the Afghan capital, officials said.

"The wreckage of the plane was found near Band-e Ghazi," Gen. Mahbub Amiri, a senior Afghan commander, told The Associated Press. "It is in high mountains, full of snow. My forces are at the foot of the mountain and we're trying to get a helicopter in there."

There was no immediate word on whether anyone survived the crash.

The Kam Air (search) Boeing 737-200 vanished from radar screens Thursday afternoon as it approached Kabul airport, sparking a massive search operation for the 96 passengers and eight crew members. About 21 foreigners were aboard, including three believed to be American working for a Massachusetts-based aid group.

If all are confirmed dead, the incident will be Afghanistan (search)'s worst-ever aviation disaster.

An official at the NATO headquarters in Kabul said the crash site was spotted by a Dutch Apache helicopter gunship. He had no further details.

There was no indication that the Kam Air Boeing 737-200, which was arriving from the western Afghan city of Herat, was hijacked or brought down by a bomb, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi said earlier Saturday.

Hundreds of Afghan and NATO forces began the search early Friday but were hampered in their efforts by thick snow and freezing fog enveloping the tall mountains ringing the Afghan capital. Helicopters were grounded for hours early Saturday by poor visibility.

Kam Air was the first private airline in post-Taliban Afghanistan and made its maiden flight on the Kabul-Herat route in November 2003. Its mainly domestic flights using leased Boeing and Antonov planes are popular with wealthy Afghans. They're also used by aid and reconstruction workers.

But there have been concerns about the safety of the company's planes, and U.N. staff are banned from flying on them, although spokeswoman Ariane Quentier confirmed on Saturday that an Italian man working as an architect for the U.N. Office for Project Services was on board.

Turkey's prime ministry said Friday that nine Turks were aboard the missing plane.

Three others were American women working for Management Sciences for Health, a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Kam Air said the eight-member crew was composed of six Russians and two Afghans.

The last major plane crash in Afghanistan was on Nov. 27 last year, when a transport plane under contract to the U.S. military crashed in central Bamiyan province, killing three American soldiers and three American civilian crew.

The most recent commercial crash was on March 19, 1998, when an Ariana Airlines Boeing 727 slammed into a peak near Kabul, killing all 45 passengers and crew.