Date: December 17th, 1997
Type: Yak-42
Registration: -
Operator: Ukraine Airlines
Where: Salonica, Greece
Report No.: Not Available
Report Date: -
Pages: -

This is not an accident investigation report.

SALONICA, Greece - A Ukrainian passenger jet with at least 69 people aboard lost contact Wednesday evening with the airport control tower in Salonica, officials said. A search was under way.

The Ukraine Airlines Yak-42 flight was five minutes from landing in the northeast coastal city about 9:15 p.m. when it dropped from radar screens in windy, snowy weather, civil aviation authorities and Greek media reported.

Rescue planes were searching coastal areas and the sea for the charter flight, which came from Odessa in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine and originated in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The search was concentrated southwest of Salonica in the area of Mount Olympus.

Greek aviation authorities said the plane carried 62 passengers and eight crew members, while the Russian ITAR-Tass news agency said 62 passengers and only seven crew members were on board.

Search planes and helicopters scanned rugged terrain for a Ukrainian passenger jet carrying at least 69 people that lost contact Wednesday night with the airport control tower in Salonica.

The charter flight came from Odessa in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine and originated in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The search was concentrated around Mount Olympus, 30 miles southwest of Salonica.

The nationalities of the passengers were not immediately known. Attempts to reach the Ukrainian charter company, Aerosvit, were unsuccessful.

The passengers left Kiev for Salonica aboard a Boeing 737, but the plane landed in Odessa because of technical problems, said Alexander Chikulai, a flight controller for Ukraine's Unified Flight Control Service. The passengers then boarded the Yak-42, he said.

A police officer near Katerini, north of Mount Olympus, reported hearing an explosion shortly after the plane lost contact with the control tower, but the location of the sound could not be pinned down.

A military alpine team was ordered to begin a search on foot at daybreak Thursday. Naval vessels, meanwhile, also looked offshore for any sign of the plane.

Helicopters with sophisticated tracking equipment were pressed into service because fog and low clouds hampered the search, officials said. At daybreak, foot patrols trekked into the terrain of steep ridges and plunging valleys where the chartered Ukraine Airlines Yak-42 last made contact with air controllers late Wednesday.

Rescue officials said the search area was expanded to a broad arch from near the northern port of Salonica to the slopes of the 9,626-foot Mount Olympus, about 40 miles southwest of the city.

The plane lost contact with traffic controllers at 9:13 p.m. Wednesday while making a second attempt to land at Salonica.

A Salonica airport official, speaking to Greek radio, said the pilot aborted the initial landing, but the reason for the action was unclear. Greek media later reported that the pilot was asked to circle and make another approach because of heavy air traffic at the time.

Ukrainian records showed 72 people were on board. But Greek civil aviation authorities reported 70 people on the plane: 62 passengers and eight crew. The ITAR-Tass news agency, quoting media sources, said 62 passengers and seven crew were on board.

The nationalities of the passengers were not immediately known, but Greek media reported that more than half of those aboard appeared to be Greek. Most of the others were Ukrainian, the reports said.

At least five of the passengers were children, a Salonica airport official told Greek radio.

Greek air traffic controllers called off a four-hour work stoppage scheduled for Thursday following the report of the missing plane.

The Yak-42, a three turbo-fan jet designed by the Soviet Union, can carry as many as 120 passengers. It entered service in the Aeroflot fleet in 1980 and is currently used in countries including Russia, Lithuania, Cuba, China and Ukraine.

In November 1993, 115 people were killed when a chartered Yak-42 crashed into a mountain near Ohrid in southwestern Macedonia.

The same type of aircraft crashed near the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing in July 1992, killing 106 people.