By W.J. Hennigan Los Angeles Times
A team of federal investigators and representatives from The Boeing Co. are headed for Afghanistan to examine a cargo plane crash that took place Monday at U.S.-operated Bagram Air Base.
The cause of the accident is unknown, but the plane’s operator, National Air Cargo, confirmed that all seven American civilian crew members were killed and the aircraft, a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, was completely destroyed.
“Safety is always our top priority at National Airlines,” company President Glen Joerger said in a statement. “This is a devastating loss for our family, and we’ll work diligently with authorities to find the cause. Most importantly, our thoughts and prayers are with our crew members and their families.”
Coalition forces rely heavily on contracted aircraft to haul troops and supplies in a nation where roadside bombs and insurgent attacks make traveling by road dangerous. Bagram, just north of the country’s capital, Kabul, is one of the two largest air bases serving coalition forces in Afghanistan.
National Air Cargo said the 747 was filled with vehicles and other freight when it took off at 11:20 a.m. local time headed for Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International Airport, in the United Arab Emirates.
Video footage of a crash surfaced Tuesday on the Internet, and depicted a jumbo jet taking off into overcast skies, before stalling, nose-diving and plummeting to the ground. The plane explodes upon impact and is engulfed in a massive fire ball.
The video appears to be shot from a dashboard camera on a vehicle as it travels on a road toward an airport. The date stamp on the video is wrong, but it was published within 24 hours of the crash.
A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said that officials have seen the video, but have not confirmed its origin or authenticity.
Regardless, the NTSB confirmed it will lead a team to assist the Afghanistan Ministry of Transportation and Commercial Aviation in the crash investigation. The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing will also provide technical assistance to investigating authorities.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the crash, but the insurgent group often issues false claims.
It was the second crash in three days involving coalition aircraft in Afghanistan. On Saturday, four U.S. airmen were killed when a military turboprop plane crashed in southern Afghanistan.