Plane with 43 aboard crashes in Afghanistan

Los Angeles Times

An Afghan passenger plane carrying at least 43 people was believed to have crashed in a snowstorm in the rugged Hindu Kush mountains Monday, and Western military forces were aiding in efforts to locate the wreckage and rescue any survivors.

Those aboard the missing plane -- an old Russian model -- included at least five foreigners, according to provincial officials in the northern city of Kunduz, where the flight originated.

The plane, an Antonov-24 turboprop operated by private Pamir airways, left at about 8:30 a.m. for the capital, Kabul, but disappeared amid the jagged peaks of the nearly 13,000-foot-high Salang Pass. Officials said it was believed to have gone down about 60 miles north of Kabul.

Afghanistan’s several private airlines have fleets that include a number of aging Russian craft, together with some newer planes. The AN-24s used on Pamir’s flights between Kabul and Kunduz are at least 30 years old.

Zemari Bashary, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, said Afghan authorities had sought the help of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force to mount a search-and-rescue mission.

The Western military said in a statement that it had dispatched a fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters to the area, but as darkness approached, bad weather was hampering the search effort.

A number of foreign aid agencies operate in and around Kunduz province, a formerly quiet corner of Afghanistan that has been increasingly beset by the insurgency. Because of the difficulty of land travel, a number of aid workers use Pamir, the only commercial airline to serve Kunduz.

Most of the Western forces stationed in Kunduz province are German.

There were conflicting reports of whether there were 43 or 44 people aboard the plane, including passengers and crew.

Pamir began operations in 1995, and flies between the capital and most major Afghan cities. It also has international flights to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.