KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan police investigating the crash of a cargo plane carrying equipment for the U.S. military in eastern Afghanistan were ambushed by militants Wednesday as they descended a mountain after finding no survivors among the nine-member crew, an official said.
The Russian-designed Ilyushin-76 cargo plane burst into flames after hitting a remote mountaintop at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, leaving blackened wreckage about 12,500 feet above sea level.
No insurgent activity was reported in the area at the time of the crash, said British Maj. Tim James, a NATO spokesman in Afghanistan.
The plane, which belonged to an Azerbaijani company, Silk Way, had flown from the Azerbaijan capital of Baku. The company's deputy director Adyl Katsymov said earlier that the fate of the crew was unknown, but the Afghan police said all were believed dead.
Anar Aghayev, the deputy chief of mission for the Azerbaijani embassy in Pakistan, said four crew members were Azerbaijani, three were from Uzbekistan and two were from Russia.
No Americans were aboard the plane, according to U.S. Army Maj. James Lowe, a spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Lowe said the cargo included four pallets of heavy equipment. He said the flight was a standard shipment for Bagram Air Base.
Provincial Police Chief Gen. Sher Ahmad Maladani led a company-sized convoy of 150 police officers up to the site to investigate the crash and found pieces of the plane strewn over a great distance.
"Only one wing was intact, but everything else was broken into small pieces," Maladani said. "All of us looked for bodies. We couldn't find even a finger ... basically all the crew has died."
Sayed Aleem Agha, the top official in Sayagred district of Parwan province, north of Kabul, saw the crash site from his office below the mountain.
"I saw a huge fire as a result of the crash," he said. "The fire lasted for a long time."
Aircraft are used extensively in Afghanistan by both NATO and Afghan government forces to transport and supply troops because the terrain is mountainous, roads are few and rough, and security is poor.
When the police arrived at the impact site, it was torched.
"Whatever food items or whatever else the plane was carrying, there must have been a lot of fuel, which caused a big fire," said Maladani, the policeman. "But there was no damage to residential areas because no one lives on this mountain."
Maladani said he expected others to visit the site to investigate the wreckage or collect the data recorder, but he suggested other search teams take a helicopter.
The police walked for more than three hours and were ambushed by Taliban as they returned, prompting a gunfight. There were no casualties, but the police then arrested 13 suspects in a nearby village, Maladani said.
According to Azerbaijan Civil Aviation Administration, the plane was built in 2005 and underwent its latest full technical inspection in February, with a subsequent technical assessment in June. The captain had more than 4,500 hours of flight time.
The Ilyushin-76 is a Russian-designed cargo plane similar in size to a Boeing C-17.
Violence also continued in western Afghanistan Wednesday.
The Taliban ambushed and kidnapped 32 members of a non-governmental Afghan de-mining team as they were driving in four vehicles to their work site in Farah province, provincial police chief Sayed Mohammad Andarabi said.
He said insurgents stopped the vehicles and asked a few questions before seizing the team members.
"So far there have been no contacts, but we are speaking to elders and tribal leaders in the area to find a solution and to speak to the captives," Andarabi said.