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Israel Plane Shot Down by Bulgarians; 57 Reported Killed in Crash

The Israel Government was taking energetic measures today to investigate the circumstances under which an EI AI-Israel Airlines Constellation with 57 persons aboard made a crash landing early this morning one and one-half miles inside the Bulgarian border adjoining Greece. It was reported this evening that the Bulgarian Government had given Israel permission to inspect the destroyed plane.

Upon instructions from the Israel Foreign Office the Israel legation in Athens immediately asked the International Red Cross and the Greek Army to enable the Israel Minister in Greece to proceed to the site of the crash. Access to the region would have to be through a fortified Greek zone and another on the Bulgarian side of the frontier.

The plane, on the Vienna-Lydda leg of a flight from London, was fired upon, reportedly by Bulgaria anti-aircraft gunners. Just before going down, the pilot was heard in Athens and Rome to say over his radio that the plane was in flames and he was trying for a forced landing. The pilot was a Briton.

(An Associated Press dispatch from Athens reported Greek Army sources as stating that 57 persons were killed in the crash. A later dispatch said that Greek soldiers in border positions could see Bulgarian ambulances surrounding the wreck.)

Four Americans were among the passengers and five Soviet citizens boarded the plane at Viena. The Americans were identified: Mrs. J. Sheinbaum, a Mrs. Katz and her small daughter, and a Mrs. Schaeffer, who boarded the plane at Vienna.

One particularly poignant aspect of the tragedy was that five of the 12 persons who boarded the plane at Vienna were Russian Jews immigrating to the Jewish State, to join relatives there. EI AI offices have refused to publish a full passenger list for the time being.

An El Al statement said that the plane had made a forced landing at Tsirbanovo, Bulgaria, while other reports placed the site at Petritsu. The area on both sides of the border is heavily fortified and Greek-Bulgarian relations have been strained for years. A shift of only a few miles to the east of the planes scheduled course might have carried it across the Bulgarian boarder.

The normally scheduled Vienna-Istanbul leg of the London-Lydda course was skipped because the plane, delayed in London, was late. It was headed directly toward Lydda when it met disaster.

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