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Turkish Soldiers Killed In Plane Crash

A Turkish military transport plane carrying Special Forces soldiers crashed in southeastern Turkey Wednesday, killing all 34 people on board.

Officials are calling it the country's worst military air disaster.

Earlier reports had said that 37 soldiers were killed in the crash. But the military says three soldiers who were scheduled to fly didn't make the flight.

The Casa CN-234 cargo plane had just left the southeastern city of Diyarbakir and was headed to the capital of Ankara when it crashed. The plane came down at around 1:15 p.m. local time in the rolling fields near the village of Akcadag, 300 miles east of Ankara.

Eyewitness accounts of the crash were conflicting.

Some spoke of an explosion before the crash, while others said the plane had lost altitude rapidly and then exploded when it hit the ground.

"The pilot made one last maneuver to keep the plane from falling onto the village and prevented a bigger disaster," Ismail Ertas was quoted as saying on NTV television's website.

He said he had seen two pilots try to leap from the aircraft before it crashed, but that they had been unable jump free because the plane had crashed vertically.

Akcadag Mayor Bayram Karaaslan told CNN-Turk television, "There's a suggestion it might have exploded in the air but it's not certain."

Omer Demir, a farmer, said the engine noise had suddenly changed before the crash.

"The plane was not on fire. It suddenly crashed into the apricot field nearly vertically and there was a big explosion," he was quoted as saying by NTV's website.

It was all over when we reached the crash site with the fire brigade. We can only collect corpses now," said Karaaslan. "There are only bits of bodies."

He said the wreckage was scattered over 300-400 yards and still on fire.

Diyarbakir is the largest city in overwhelmingly Kurdish southeastern Turkey. Autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels have battled Turkish troops in the area for 15 years. Some 37,000 people, mostly Kurds, have died as a result of the fighting.

There was no suggestion of a link with the conflict, nor any immediate indication of what had caused the crash. However a military official, who would not give his name, said the aircraft crashed due to a technical malfunction.

It was the worst disaster in Turkey since 1994, when 57 people died in a Turkish Airlines crash.

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