KABUL, Afghanistan – The first bodies retrieved from a crashed Afghan airliner were returned to their grieving relatives Thursday, almost three weeks after the plane smashed into a mountain during a snowstorm. An official said the bodies of an American and a Russian have been identified.
Bad weather has hampered recovery efforts on the freezing peak near the Afghan capital where the plane hit Feb. 3, killing all 108 people on board, in the country's worst air disaster. More than 20 foreigners were among the dead.
On Thursday morning, staff at a Kabul (search) hospital carried coffins containing the remains of four Afghan men to the ambulances that would bring them back to their villages.
Aiwaz Ali, whose 23-year-old brother, Baz Mohammed, was the first to be brought from the morgue at the military hospital, and two other relatives burst into tears when they clambered into the ambulance and lifted the lid to reveal his remains.
"How can I explain this to my mother and sister, how can I take you inside my home," Ali said, apparently speaking to his dead brother.
Afghan and NATO (search) teams have so far recovered 46 bodes from the site and plan to bring another seven to Kabul on Thursday, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zaher Azimi said.
Azimi said two foreign women have also been identified — one American and one Russian. The remains of the American would be handed over to relatives in Kabul later Thursday, he said. Neither victim was identified by name.
Heavy snow and freezing temperatures have hampered access to the crash site, 10,000 feet up a snow-covered peak about 20 miles east of Kabul. Officials have warned that the recovery operation could take many weeks.