KABUL, Afghanistan – NATO (search) and Afghan troops on Sunday began trying to recover the bodies of 104 people killed in the crash of an Afghan airliner, a NATO commander said, ten days after it smashed into a mountain in a snowstorm.
The first clear weather in nearly a week allowed helicopters to ferry a NATO de-mining team and Afghan soldiers to the snow-covered peak 20 miles east of the capital, Kabul, said Lt. Gen. Ethem Erdagi, the NATO force's Turkish commander.
The Boeing 737 (search) crashed into the mountaintop on Feb. 3 after approaching the capital in a blizzard from the western city of Herat.
Authorities have declared all 96 passengers and eight crew dead, including more than 20 foreigners, in the country's worst air disaster. Bad weather has allowed only a brief inspection of the crash site.
Afghan officials say the cause of the crash remains a mystery and have called in U.S. experts to help investigate. The private airline, Kam Air, says the pilot turned away from Kabul to seek an easier landing in Pakistan; the plane's flight recorder has yet to be located.
Officials say the wreckage lies scattered in deep snow at an altitude of about 10,000 feet and that it could take weeks to collect the bodies. The plane hit near an old military lookout that is believed to be mined.
Meanwhile, Turkey began a six-month command of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan on Sunday during which the alliance plans to relieve U.S. forces in the west and help provide security for the first post-Taliban parliamentary elections.
The NATO force is separate from the 18,000-strong U.S.-led coalition hunting Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts mainly in the south and east, though alliance members are discussing how to combine the forces. Some American forces in the west are expected to come under NATO control.