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Special forces die in Turkey crash

Crash site
Debris was spread over a wide area  

ANKARA, Turkey -- A technical malfunction is being blamed for a Turkish military plane crash that killed all 34 servicemen on board.

The Casa CN-235 cargo plane was carrying members of Turkey's Special Forces from the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir to the capital of Ankara when it crashed in the Malatya province.

As an investigation got under way, a military official said a technical failure appeared to be the cause of the crash.

Military sources told CNN Turk that the plane was carrying 28 special forces troops and a crew of six.

Earlier reports said 37 people had been killed, but it had later emerged that three soldiers who were scheduled to be onboard did not make the flight.

CNN Turk reported that the pilot lost control of the aircraft at 5,000 metres (17,000 feet) and fell into a steep dive, crashing into a field about 650 kilometres (400 miles) southeast of Ankara.

Casa CN-235 cargo plane
A Turkish Army CASA CN-235 cargo plane, similar to the one that crashed  

Bayram Karaaslan, mayor of the nearby town of Akcabag, described a scene of destruction at the crash site. "We can only collect corpses," he told CNN-Turk television.

In a statement, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said he felt great sadness that 34 military personnel had been "martyred."

Witness Ismail Ertas said he saw the plane rapidly lose altitude and fly near two houses close to his village of Guzyurdu before crashing. He said the pilot steered the plane away from houses toward a field.

"We saw the pilots trying to jump out, but the plane nose-dived and they weren't able to," he told Anatolia news agency. "When we got to the site, the plane was burning."

Some witnesses in Malatya said they saw the plane explode and fall from the sky in flames.

The CN-235

But farmer Omer Demir was quoted on the Web site of NTV television as saying: "The plane was not on fire. It suddenly crashed into the apricot field nearby vertically and there was a big explosion."

The Spanish-designed two-engine propeller aircraft are manufactured in Turkey and are the army's preferred light transport aircraft.

Rescue workers recovered all 34 bodies and found the plane's black box. Debris was spread around 600 square yards. The region of the crash is 410 miles southeast of Ankara.

Relatives of some the dead soldiers flew to Diyarbakir, where the soldiers were based. A funeral service was scheduled for Thursday in Ankara.

Diyarbakir is the largest city in overwhelmingly Kurdish south-eastern Turkey where rebels have been battling for autonomy for 15 years. There has been no suggestion of a link between this and the plane crash.

The Special Forces are commandos trained for covert operations and to fight Kurdish rebels. The force is also trained for missions such as hostage-rescues and operations in enemy territory.

In 1999, the force won praise in Turkey for their role in the capture of rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya.

The last major Turkish air force crash was in January when another CASA cargo aircraft on a training mission crashed over central Turkey, killing three crew members.

In a 1998 military crash, Kurdish rebels shot down a military helicopter in southeastern Turkey, killing 16 soldiers.

Wednesday's tragedy was the worst air disaster in Turkey since 1994, when 57 people died in a Turkish Airlines crash.

• CASA aircraft
• CNN Turk

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