Wreckage of airliner seen on Afghan mountainside

Friday, May 21, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Search craft on Thursday spotted the torn-apart wreckage of an Afghan commercial airliner that disappeared Monday while flying over Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountains with 44 people on board, including six foreigners, officials said.

Also Thursday, the Pentagon announced that one colonel and two lieutenant colonels were among five American soldiers killed Tuesday by a suicide car bomber in Kabul. Deaths of so many senior officers in a single attack are rare.

Photos supplied by NATO forces show the plane was broken into four pieces strewn across a steep mountainside -- suggesting survival is unlikely. It wasn't clear whether any of the helicopters flying over the crash site for much of the day were able to land on the rugged terrain.

The Antonov-24, operated by Pamir Airways, was flying from the northern city of Kunduz to Kabul when air traffic controllers lost track of it north of the capital. Three British citizens and an American were among the six foreigners who were on board, officials said.

Poor weather and the rugged mountain terrain hampered the search, but aircraft confirmed the tail section had been found in mountains about 24 miles north of Kabul, acting Aviation Minister Mohammadullah Batash said. Searchers identified the blue Pamir Airways logo on the tail, he said.

NATO, which aided the search, said the crash site was about 13,500 feet high in Shakar Darah district of Kabul province.

Kabul-based Pamir Airways, whose name honors the Pamir mountain range of Central Asia, started operations in 1995. It has daily flights to major Afghan cities and flies to Dubai and Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage.

Pamir's chief executive officer, Amanullah Hamid, said the plane was last inspected about three months ago in Bulgaria. The An-24 is a medium-range twin-turboprop civil aircraft built in the former Soviet Union from 1950 to 1978. A modernized version is still made in China.

It is widely used by airlines in the developing world due to its rugged design, ease of maintenance and low operating costs.

The Pentagon released the names of five U.S. soldiers who died in the Tuesday car bombing, the deadliest attack against NATO forces in Kabul since last September. A Canadian colonel also died in the blast.

A statement on the Pentagon website identified the dead Americans as Col. John M. McHugh, 46, of New Jersey, assigned to the U.S. Army Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, 43, of Waterloo, Wisconsin, assigned to the 10th Mountain Division; Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, 44, of Perrysburg, Ohio, assigned to the 10th Mountain Division; Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman, 28, of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson, 24, of Dubberly, Louisiana, both assigned to Special Troops Battalion, V Corps based in Heidelberg, Germany.

In southern Kandahar province Thursday, a suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy on the main road to the airport, local officials said. However, there were no reports of deaths from the attack and Ahmad Wali, a police officer on the scene, said the assailant's car blew up before it reached the convoy.

Associated Press Writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar.

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