DAMASCUS, Syria, (AP) – A small plane crashed in an empty field south of Damascus on Sunday, killing the three-member crew on board, Syria’s state-run news agency and witnesses said.
Syria’s official news agency SANA said the plane, a Navajo, belonged to the state-run Public Institution for Topography and had been on a training flight when it crashed because of technical failure. It said the plane’s three crew members were killed.
Earlier Sunday, the witnesses said the small plane appeared to be a military aircraft on a training exercise when it crashed in an empty field in Moaddamiyeh, a mostly residential district nine miles south of the Syrian capital. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The discrepancy between the two reports could not immediately be explained. SANA said a committee to investigate the crash had been formed.
Syria has been jittery since a Sept. 6 Israeli air raid northeast of the country near the Turkish border. Syrian President Bashar Assad said late last week that the raid struck an unused military building. Israel has not said what the target was.
The incident — fueled by the official silence from both Syria and Israel — has sparked furious and conflicting reports in the foreign press, claiming that Israel attacked an arms shipment to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or a nuclear installation built with North Korean help, or that the mission was an attempt to gauge Syria’s air defenses.
Later in September, Israel dispatched several fighter jets toward its border with Syria after a Syrian aircraft disappeared from Israeli air force radar screens.
According to Israeli military officials at the time, the Israeli jets, which did not enter Syrian airspace, returned to their bases minutes later when it became clear the Syrian airplane had crashed. Syria did not comment on that incident.