All 27 killed in Kazakh military plane crash

ALMATY, Kazakhstan: All 27 people on board a Kazakh military jet that crashed while carrying the Central Asian state's top border guard officials have died, the state security service said Wednesday.

"All 27 occupants of the aircraft, including seven crew members, have perished," the National Security Service (KNB) said in a statement.

The victims included the acting head of the Kazakh federal border service Turganbek Stambekov and his wife, the statement said.

The 22-year-old plane crashed late Tuesday about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Shymkent airport where it had been due to land after a flight from the capital Astana.

Kazakhstan's KTK television said the jet fell from a height of 800 metres (2,600 feet). Witnesses also reported hearing a loud explosion at the time of the crash.

Footage of the crash site aired on Kazakh state television on Wednesday showed only fragments of the An-72 military transport plane remaining on the ground.

But the KNB security service stressed that the plane had recently undergone all the necessary checks and repairs.

"In 2012, it underwent restoration work at the Antonov repair plant in Ukraine," its statement said.

Khabar state television also cited local residents as saying that a heavy winter storm had descended on the region at the time of the accident.

It said the plane caught fire after the crash.

Kazakh official sealed off the site of the disaster on Wednesday as they launched an investigation into one of the most serious air accidents in the country's post-Soviet history.

The KNB statement said the senior security team, which also included the heads of the regional border guard services, had been flying to an end-of-year security meeting in Shymkent.

The border guard service of Kazakhstan -- a vast resource-rich nation nestled between China and Russia -- experienced a number of setbacks during the past year.

Its acting head Stambekov was appointed to his post in June after his predecessor was fired following a May incident in which 14 border guards were shot dead in a remote outpost in the south of the country.

The sole border guard to survive the shooting confessed during a subsequent trial that he killed his colleagues, but retracted his confession after being handed a life sentence, saying unidentified people in civilian clothes were responsible.

Aviation disasters remain a scourge across the former Soviet Union due to ageing hardware that often has not been replaced since the fall of the Soviet regime, as well as human error.

In November, eight people were killed in Kazakhstan when a Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter crashed while on a pipeline surveillance mission.

- AFP/ck

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