Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Officials: 44 killed in Russian airplane crash



ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – A passenger jet crashed late Monday on a highway in northwestern Russia, killing 44 people, officials said. Eight people survived the crash.

The Tu-134 plane, belonging to the RusAir airline, crash-landed en route from Moscow to the city of Petrozavodsk, Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Olga Semyonova told The Associated Press.

Her ministry said in a website statement that 44 people were killed. Eight people who survived the crash, including a 10-year-old boy, were hospitalized in critical condition in Petrozavodsk.

There was no immediate explanation for the crash, but the Interfax news agency quoted the airport director Alexei Kuzmitsky as saying there were "unfavorable weather conditions."

Semyonova said the plane crashed on its final approach to the airport in Petrozavodsk, landing one to two kilometers (about a mile) short of the runway. It was unclear if the plane had attempted to land on the road, or just happened to fall there, she said. Petrozavodsk is in Karelia province, near the Finnish border, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) northwest of Moscow.

The plane was carrying 52 people, nine of whom were crew members, Semyonova said. Russian news agencies said Russian Premier League soccer referee Vladimir Pettay and a Swedish citizen were among the victims.

The Karelia branch of the Emergencies Ministry said radio contact with the pilot was lost at 11:40 p.m. local time (7:30 p.m. EDT, 1940GMT). The black box flight data recorders have been recovered, the news agencies said.

The crash occurred on the eve of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's planned appearance Tuesday at the Paris Air Show to support dozens of Russian firms seeking sales contracts.

Russia and the other former Soviet republics have some of the world's worst air traffic safety records, according to the International Air Transport Association. Experts blame weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality for the poor safety record, leading to emergency landings being reported with alarming regularity.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski was among 96 people killed when his Tu-154 crashed in heavy fog while trying to land near the western city of Smolensk in April 2010. In 2006, three crashes — two in Russia and one in Ukraine — killed more than 400 people.

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Associated Press writer David Nowak in Moscow contributed to this report.

Plane crash in north-west Russia kills 44

Map of Russia

Forty-four people have been killed and eight injured in a plane crash in north-western Russia, officials say.

The aircraft attempted to land on a motorway about 1km (0.6 miles) from Petrozavodsk airport in the republic of Karelia, but crashed and caught fire.

The Tupolev Tu-134 operated by RusAir was carrying 43 passengers and nine crew. Some of the survivors are said to be in critical condition in hospital.

The plane came down while flying from the capital, Moscow, to Petrozavodsk.

It just missed houses built close to the motorway. One source told the Interfax news agency that bodies were strewn over the road.

Photographs on the lifenews.ru website showed firemen fighting fires among the wreckage of the aircraft.

It also published a full list of the passengers and the names of the survivors, who it said included a 10-year-old boy named Anton. Russian media are meanwhile reporting that one of those killed was a Swedish national.

The emergency situation ministry's office in Karelia said radio contact with the pilot was lost at 2340 local time (1940GMT).

There was no immediate explanation for the crash, but Interfax quoted the airport's director as saying there had been "unfavourable weather conditions". The plane's flight recorders have reportedly been recovered.

Prosecutors say a criminal investigation into the possible neglect of air transport rules is under way.

RusAir is a privately-owned, Moscow-based airline that specialises in charter flights in western Russia and eastern Europe. It has so far not commented.