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Athens News Agency: News in English (PM), 97-12-18

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr>

NEWS IN ENGLISH

Athens, Greece, 18/12/1997 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Search continues for missing Ukrainian plane
  • Greece asks Brussels experts for help
  • President delegation not on plane
  • Gov't expresses regrets
  • PM briefs president on EU summit
  • Nationwide strike today
  • Weather
  • Foreign Exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Search continues for missing Ukrainian plane

The main thrust of an air and land search for a Ukrainian Yacovlev-42 airplane that went missing last night minutes before it was due to land in Thessaloniki has shifted to the mountainous region west of Katerini, after extensive search in the Thermaic Gulf area proved inconclusive, Chief of the National Defence General Staff Gen. (air) Athanassios Tzoganis said.

Tzoganis said that the Air Force radars that had monitored the course of the plane said the Yacovlev had flown over Thessaloniki's Macedonia Airport heading north, turned right, and went off the radars after the village Kato Milia.

The plane had been flying at an altitude of 3,500 feet when "something sudden must have happened, possibly it crashed into a mountaintop", Tzoganis said. The mountains in the area range from 3,500-5,500 feet in height.

Tzoganis ruled out the possibility of mechanical failure, from indications so far.

The weather conditions in the area are particularly adverse for aircraft, with low cloud formations between 800 and 1,500 feet and visibility at barely 100 metres. Tzoganis said there was a danger of "passing near the plane at just a little more than 100 metres and not seeing it".

Tzoganis said the military Hercules C-130 plane had taken off immediately to search for the missing Yakovlev "in record time, below the one hour ususally required to prepare".

He said a company of commandos, military alpinist units, eight helicopters, two C-130s, firefighting vehicles and a frigate were combing the region.

Tzoganis said that the extremely adverse weather conditions, which were not expected to ease up, were hampering the search and rescue operation, and expressed fear that some "areas of interest" could not be reached before nightfall.

Rescue teams supported by Greek air force planes, army units and local farmers resumed their search at dawn today for a missing Ukrainian airliner.

The Russian-built Yakovlev 42 disappeared from radar screens at 21.15 local time while at an altitude of 3,200 feet as it flew over the northern Greek town of Veria, according to Thessaloniki control tower authorities.

Two Hercules C-130 planes flew over the region of Pieria mountains, Imathia and Kozani covered with snow shooting flares. They were joined by two Shinuk helicopters at the break of daylight.

On the ground, police assisted by local farmers in tractors and commando units combed the area, many parts of which "is inaccessible and the snow is 1.5 metres deep ", an air force spokesman said.

Coastguard patrol boats, fishing boats and tugboats also searched the sea region around Thessaloniki and Katerini.

Sophocles Petsas, a spopkesman for Airsweet, the Ukrainian airline's representative gave a list of the names of the 62 passengers oboard the airliner early this morning.

The airliner carried 42 Greeks, four of them women, and 20 foreigners, among them eight women and two children. Most of the Greek passengers were either businessmen or workers returning to Greece for the Christmas and new year holidays. The foreigners are Ukrainians or Russians.

Scores of relatives gathered at Thessaloniki airport waiting for news of their missing next of kin.

Greece asks Brussels experts for help

Greece today asked a Brussels-based centre specialising in locating downed aircraft for assistance in pinpointing the position of a Ukrainian airliner that went missing over northern Greece with 73 people on board.

Airport authorities at Thessaloniki, where the plane was due to land only minutes after it went off the radars at 9:15 last night, told the ANA that the Brussels centre "has a satellite for tracking airplanes, and we supplied them with the flight details of the missing Yakovlev-42".

"It will be very difficult for the satellite to locate the Yacovlev as this type of airplane does not carry the beacons tracked by this system. Such beacons are usually found only on long-distance haulers," a Thessaloniki airport official told the ANA.

President delegation not on plane

All members of the delegation that accompanied Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos on his official visit to the Ukraine returned to Athens last night, the President's office told the ANA today.

"All the members of the official delegation that accompanied the President of the Republic returned to Athens last night on an Olympic Airways plane," a spokesman for the President's press office said.

The statement came after a Ukrainian civil defence official in Odessa said that the passengers of the missing Yacovlev 42 airliner may have included some members of the delegation who had accompanied Stephanopoulos on his three-day official visit.

Gov't expresses regrets

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas later expressed the regret of Prime Minister Costas Simitis and the government over the air tragedy, stressing that the competent services were doing everything possible to locate the aircraft.

Reppas said that all services had been placed on the alert from the outset and all the appropriate technical means were being used in the search.

The search was being coordinated by Transport Minister Tassos Mandelis and Macedonia-Thrace Minister Philippos Petsalnikos, he added.

Replying to reporters questions about the delay in the installation of a new radar system at Thessaloniki international airport, Reppas said that if somebody was found to be responsible, they would have to "pay the price".

Reppas attributed responsibility to both "competent services" and local people who are opposed to the installation of the radar.

He acknowledged that the government bore political responsibility but said that "to succeed in its task it needs the assistance also of the competent, social or trade union agencies involved".

Reppas stressed however that for the time being, and before an investigation has been carried out, the tragedy could not be linked to the delay in the installation of the new radar.

PM briefs president on EU summit

Prime Minister Costas Simitis today briefed President of the Republic Costis Stephanopulos on the outcome of the recent European Union summit in Luxembourg and reactions worldwide on the issue of EU-Turkish relations.

After the 40-minute meeting, Simitis told reporters that Greece's policy line remained firm, adding that the Greek line was one of consistency, stability in policy, and cool-headedness.

Stephanopoulos, who returned yesterday from a three-day official visit to the Ukraine, expressed his grief over the air accident in Northern Greece in which a Ukrainian airliner went missing just minutes before landing at Thessaloniki airport last night and was feared to have crashed into the Pieria mountain range.

"Today is a day of grief," Stephanopoulos told reportes before the talks. He said he had communicated with the Chief of the Air Force General Staff but, "unfortunately, the airplane has not been located yet".

Nationwide strike today

A General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Civil Servants' Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) 24-hour general strike was held today, as Parliament debates the 1998 budget.

According to GSEE and ADEDY, the budget reflects the government's continued policy of austerity, reductions of social benefits and tax increases for workers and pensioners.

Negotiations between trade unions and the employers are expected to begin on Monday.

Trade unions demand a 6 per cent increase in wages, while employer federations consider a 2.5 per cent increase as a starting point for the negotiations.

WEATHER

Local rain is forecast in most parts of the country today with snowfall in the mountainous regions of central and northern Greece. winds variable, strong to gale force. Light raifall in Athens and snowfall in Mt. Parnis with temperatures between 3-8C. Rainfall and sleet in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 0-4C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Wednesday's closing rates - buying US dlr. 275.756 Pound sterling 456.022 Cyprus pd 532.426 French franc 46.670 Swiss franc 192.567 German mark 156.314 Italian lira (100) 15.941 Yen (100) 217.893 Canadian dlr. 193.837 Australian dlr. 182.101 Irish Punt 404.240 Belgian franc 7.575 Finnish mark 51.792 Dutch guilder 138.701 Danish kr. 41.013 Swedish kr. 35.734 Norwegian kr. 38.152 Austrian sch. 22.219 Spanish peseta 1.845 Port. Escudo 1.528

(M.P.)


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