Plane carrying US drug officials crashes in Afghanistan
No Americans among the 4 dead; 13 people injured
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -- A plane carrying US drug enforcement officials slammed into tents and mud brick houses yesterday while trying to avoid a truck on a runway, killing two people on board and two girls on the ground.
At least 13 people were injured, including several Americans, after the Russian-made, twin-engine An-32 aircraft plowed into a nomad settlement on landing at an airport in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand Province.
Two of the 16 people aboard the plane -- 12 passengers and four crew -- were killed, said Canadian military spokesman Major Quentin Innis. Eight others were injured and flown by helicopters to a US-led coalition hospital in Kandahar, about 75 miles away.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the two dead on the plane were Ukrainian flight crew members. The US Embassy said several of the 11 Americans aboard were injured. The nationality of the other passenger was unclear.
Two Afghan nomad girls, ages 2 and 3, were crushed to death in their mud brick homes as they slept, their mothers said.
At least five other people were injured.
''We were sitting eating our lunch when I heard a loud noise, and then turned to see a big plane sliding along the ground from the airstrip before it smashed into our homes," said Lal Bibi, 40, whose 2-year-old daughter, Palwasha, was killed.
The casualty count could have been higher if the settlement's men had not left earlier to work at a farm picking opium poppies, Bibi said.
The plane was leased by the State Department and carried a team from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Innis said. The bureau has been helping Afghan authorities conduct opium eradication campaigns across southern Afghanistan.
''The aircraft was on final approach when a civilian truck drove across the runway," Innis said. ''The pilot pulled up to avoid hitting the truck but was unable to gain sufficient speed to remain airborne."
US Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said the plane left Kabul early yesterday for Lashkar Gah, about 325 miles to the southwest. The plane also made a stop in Kandahar.
''Preliminary reports indicate that there were American civilians on board the plane and their injuries are reported to be minor," Fintor said in Kabul.
Poppy eradication started across southern Afghanistan earlier this year, including in Helmand where about a quarter of the country's opium is produced. Last year, more than 4,500 tons of the drug were harvested in Afghanistan, which supplies about 90 percent of the world's opium and heroin.
Some of the profits from the illicit business are believed to go to militants allied to the Taliban, Afghanistan's former hard-line regime that was toppled after the Sept. 11 attacks for harboring Osama bin Laden. Officials and police are also believed to benefit.