Plane crashes while fighting wildfires in Portugal, according to reports
A Canadair water-dropping plane has crashed in central Portugal while fighting the wildfires that have killed 64 people, an official says.
Maria Jose Andre, from the Air Accident Office, said that the Civil Protection Agency, which is overseeing firefighting operations, informed her office on Tuesday afternoon that the plane had crashed.
She says her office immediately sent a crash investigation team to the area, but that she had no details about the plane, its crew or where the crash happened.
Officials with the Portuguese government and the Civil Protection Agency said they could not confirm the crash.
Portugal's secretary of state for the interior, Jorge Gomes, said: "We are investigating if (the reports) are true."
Civil Protection Agency spokesman Fausto Coutinho says authorities had received reports of a plane crash near where wildfires are raging and dispatched a helicopter to check.
A reporter for a Portuguese public broadcaster says he heard a loud explosion in hills about six miles from the region where firefighters are battling the blaze.
Antena 1 public radio reporter Pedro Sa Guerra says there was thick smoke over the area on Tuesday caused by the devastating wildfire in Pedrogao Grande.
He says a local woman told him she saw a plane crash in a fireball.
Later, a spokesman for the Civil Protection Agency said he could not confirm that the water-dropping aircraft had crashed.
Vitor Vaz Pinto says all 13 planes hired by the agency to help fight the blazes were accounted for on Tuesday evening.
But 30 water-dropping aircraft were engaged in battling the blazes, some operating under bilateral agreements with the Portuguese government and others as part of a European Union cooperation agreement.
Planes from Spain, France, Italy and Morocco are among those helping to fight the fires.
Mr Vaz Pinto told a briefing for journalists on Tuesday: "I can't confirm or deny that any aircraft are missing."
Mr Vaz Pinto says airborne search-and-rescue teams are looking for wreckage among the smoke-shrouded hills where wildfires are still raging.