LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan – A plane carrying U.S. drug enforcement officials slammed into tents and mud-brick houses after dodging a truck on a runway, killing two Ukrainian crew members and three people on the ground, officials said Tuesday.
At least 13 people were injured, including several Americans, when the Russian-made, twin-engine An-32 aircraft plowed into a nomad settlement while landing at an airport in Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan. The plane had to maneuver to avoid a truck that crossed the runway, officials said.
Two of the four Ukrainian crew members, including the pilot, were killed, U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said, while eight of the 13 passengers — 11 Americans and two people whose nationalities were not specified — suffered minor injuries.
Canadian military spokesman Maj. Quentin Innis said three Afghans on the ground were also killed and five people unaccounted for.
Two of the Afghans were nomad girls, aged 2 and 3, who were crushed to death in their mud brick homes as they slept, their mothers said. At least five other people were injured.
"We were sitting eating our lunch when I heard a loud noise, and then turned to see a big plane sliding along the ground from the airstrip before it smashed into our homes," said Lal Bibi, 40, whose 2-year-old daughter, Palwasha, was killed.
The casualty count could have been higher if the settlement's men had not left earlier to work at a farm picking opium poppies, Bibi said.
The plane was leased by the State Department and carried a team from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Innis said. The bureau has been helping Afghan authorities conduct opium eradication campaigns across southern Afghanistan.
"The aircraft was on final approach when a civilian truck drove across the runway," Innis told The Associated Press. "The pilot pulled up to avoid hitting the truck but was unable to gain sufficient speed to remain airborne."
Fintor said the plane had arrived in Lashkar Gah from Kabul after a stop in Kandahar Monday. Lashkar Gah is about 325 miles southwest of the capital.
The crash was the first of a nonmilitary aircraft since November 2005 when a Pakistani-owned plane carrying cargo for the U.S.-led coalition slammed into mountains near Kabul, killing at least eight people.
On Feb. 3, 2005, a plane on a domestic flight belonging to Kam Air, Afghanistan's only private airline, crashed into mountains near Kabul due to bad weather, killing all 104 on board.