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Troops Start Moving Afghan Plane Crash Bodies

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Afghan and NATO troops dug through deep snow on Monday to recover remains of some of the 104 victims of a crashed airliner from a mountain near Kabul where they have lain for the past 11 days.

Bad weather and the steep terrain had prevented recovery of bodies of the passengers and crew of a Kam Air Boeing 737 from the 3,300 metre (11,000 foot) Shapiri Ghar mountain since it crashed there on February 3, killing all on board.

A Defence Ministry statement said "a few" bodies were taken off the mountain on Monday and work would continue until all had been found, a process officials say could take weeks.

A TV cameraman who reached the site 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Kabul on an Afghan military helicopter saw a woman's body strapped to a seat in the tail of the plane.

A Kam Air official identified her as a Russian flight attendant, but did not give her name. Her body was loaded onto a helicopter and flown to Kabul's military hospital, where remains will be kept for identification.

Among those aboard were more than 20 foreigners, including nine Turks, six Americans, three Italians and an Iranian. At least four Russians and a Canadian were among the crew. The pilot was Russian and the first officer Canadian.

The tail of the aircraft was on a ridge, but other parts of were far down the mountainside, adding to the difficulty of recovery work.

Afghan soldiers used long-handled shovels to dig through the snow in search of bodies, while mountain rescue troops from Afghanistan's NATO-led peacekeeping force lowered themselves by rope down ridges to try to reach other parts of the crash site.

Among those taken to the site were two relatives of victims. "We are sure they are all dead, but we need to find their bodies," said Gul Ahmad, whose cousin had been aboard the plane.

The 23 year old 737 disappeared from radar screens while approaching Kabul after a flight from the western city of Herat in Afghanistan's worst civil aviation disaster. The cause of the crash remains unclear.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the flight data recorder had been found, but not the cockpit voice recorder. He told a news briefing the data recorder had been turned over to officials of the US National Transportation Safety Board and would be taken to the United States for analysis.

Officials of Kam Air, Afghanistan's only private airline, said after the crash the 737 had been turned away from Kabul Airport, which has only limited landing aids, because of heavy snow.

However, the US military, which has controlled Afghanistan's air space since overthrowing the Taliban in 2001, has expressed doubt that the aircraft was turned away. It says it made no request to land at the nearby US base at Bagram.

A manager of Phoenix Aviation, a United Arab Emirates-based firm which leased the 737 to Kam Air, said last week that bad weather caused the accident, not any fault with the plane.

(Reuters)