UPS cargo plane crashes near Dubai airport

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A UPS cargo plane with two crew members on board crashed shortly after takeoff Friday outside Dubai, officials said.

The state news agency WAM, quoting the General Civil Aviation Authority, reported that the “bodies of two pilots” had been found at the scene, but UPS did not confirm that.

The plane went down inside an Emirati air base near a busy highway intersection about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Dubai’s international airport. WAM said the crash occurred in an unpopulated desert area, suggesting there may not have been casualties on the ground.

Smoke rose from the crash site, which was shielded from the highway by walls. Migrant laborers from a nearby camp gathered along the roadside to watch.

UPS spokeswoman Kristen Petrella said the Boeing 747-400 — which has a wingspan of 212 feet (64.6 meters) and length of 232 feet (70.7 meters) — went down at about 8 p.m. in Dubai (12 p.m. EST). Flight 6 was en route to the UPS hub in Cologne, Germany, she said. Petrella said the plane had two crew members but the company has not confirmed any casualties.

Two U.S. aviation experts said the plane had taken off and then turned around and was returning to land when the accident took place. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

UPS, an Atlanta-based company formally known as United Parcel Service Inc. and the world’s largest shipping company, dispatched an investigation team to the scene.

A Dubai-based spokesman for the General Civil Aviation Authority, Ismail al-Baroushi, said an investigation was under way, but it was “too early to speculate” on the cause of the crash. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz also said the U.S. agency will send a team of experts to Dubai to assist with the investigation.

A witness, who refused to give his name, said he was sitting on the balcony of his home when he heard a “big boom.”

“There was fire and too much smoke,” he said.

In October 2009, a Sudanese Boeing 707 cargo plane crashed in the desert outside Dubai after taking off from Sharjah airport north of Dubai, killing six crew members. Emirati regulators have banned the plane’s Sudanese owner, Azza Transport, from operating in the country.

There are about 300 747 freighters in service, carrying about half the world’s air cargo.

UPS planes have been involved in four accidents since 1985, none fatal, according to an aviation safety database. The most recent involved a fire that broke out in the cargo hold of a McDonnell Douglas DC-8 en route from Atlanta to Philadelphia. Smoke was billowing from the plane when it landed, but the three pilots were able to evacuate safely, said the database, maintained by the Flight Safety Foundation of Alexandria, Va.

In 2005, pilot error cause the nose gear of a McDonnell Douglas MD-11F to collapse during a landing in Anchorage, causing $10 million in damages to the plane.

Prior to Friday’s accident, five major airline accidents have been linked to Dubai Airport since 1973, with no fatalities, according to the database. The most recent was on March 12, 2007, when a Biman Bangladesh Airlines Airbus A310 with 236 passengers and crew members aborted a takeoff. The plane came to rest at the end of the runway with a collapsed nose gear.

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Associated Press Airlines Writer Samantha Bomkamp in New York and AP writers Michael Casey in Dubai and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

The Associated Press