Fighter jets planned to 'attack' crashed plane

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12:36 CET+01:00
The Norwegian Hercules military transport plane that crashed into Sweden's highest peak Kebnekaise on Thursday may have been flying "tactically" at low altitude to avoid detection, A Norwegian military source said.

The head of the Norwegian Hercules fleet, Lieutenant Colonel Trond Solna, said the pilots were probably flying without autopilot and that this may have been one of the causes of the accident.

"The plan was for them to use the opportunity to fly tactically if the weather permitted it," Solna said to the Norwegian Aftenposten daily.

Flying tactically means flying at lower altitudes, along the contours of the landscape, often without autopilot.

At the time, the Hercules was participating in the Cold Response military training exercise taking place over northern Norway which was scheduled to run from March 12th to March 21st and included 16,000 soldiers from 15 countries.

The Norwegian Armed Forces have confirmed that part of the exercise involved a planned attack on the Hercules by fighter jets.

But the Hercules disappeared from radio and radar contact before the fighter jets had time to set their sights on it, Swedish fighter pilot Stefan Kaarle told newspaper Verdens Gang.

"Ten Swedish JAS planes from Luleå and four Norwegian F-16 planes from Ørlandet were up in the air. We were split into two teams - on that was supposed to attack the Hercules planes and one to protect them," said Kaarle.

Instead, the Hercules that went missing on Thursday smashed into the western peak of Mount Kebnekaise, likely exploding on impact.

Body parts found on Saturday by rescue teams have been transported to Kiruna hospital.

"They will then be taken later to Umeå with the help of a funeral director. Once there, an identification will be carried out at the Forensic Medicine Unit," Börje Öhman at Norrbotten police said.

"The handling of the body parts must be carried out with as much dignity as possible," he said, adding that any further finds will be taken to Kiruna hospital during the course of the day.

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Search and rescue dogs are set to be deployed in the area around the mountain located in the far north of Sweden as the search for the bodies of the five passengers on board continues.

"We will fly the dogs up this morning," Börje Öhman said.

The work is being conducted in consultation with the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority (SHK) and Börje Öhman was unable to state how long the search would continue.

"A few days have to pass before we get an understanding of the situation. The finds are in an avalanche, so there could be a lot of snow both on the aircraft parts and people," he said.

The police are counting on a lengthy operation and one of the risks they face is the danger of avalanche.

Some 20 police officers have been deployed at the site, together with avalanche dogs, to search for the remains of the five passengers on Sunday.

"The bodies are under the snow. Some of the parts found on Saturday were found relatively shallow, below the snow's surface," Börje Öhman said.

Öhman was unable to answer questions as to how the remains of the plane will be taken care of.

The aircraft went missing on Thursday afternoon when it was on its way from Evenes in northern Norway to Kiruna in the far north of Sweden.

"There was a crew of four on board as well as an extra officer. Their mission was to fly from Evenes to Kiruna to pick up material and personnel and fly back to Norway," Harald Sunde told news agency NTB shortly after the plane disappeared.

The crashed aircraft is a C-130 J "Super" Hercules transport plane manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the United States.

The plane is one of four C-130 Js ordered by the Norwegian air force in 2007, the first of which was delivered in November 2008.

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