Russian plane crash kills 88
Aeroflot 737 narrowly missed populated area
An Aeroflot jet which crashed Sunday near Perm in Russia’s Ural mountains killing all 88 people on board was an accident, Russian transport minister Igor Levitin said.
Levitin told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass that explosive specialists working at the scene believed the crash was an accident.
“(They) found no proof whatsoever confirming that it was an attack,” Levitin said.
The black boxes had been recovered and their analysis — to establish the cause of the crash — would take three to four weeks, he added.
However Alexander Bastrykin, the Russian public prosecutor leading the investigation, said preliminary indications suggested the accident could have been caused by “technical failures.”
He said the airplane crash had been linked to technical failures including a fire in the right-hand engine, he told Itar-Tass.
Aeroflot spokesman Lev Koshlyakov had told journalists earlier Sunday the plane had been given “a full technical inspection” early this year and was judged to be in a “proper condition.”
Aeroflot said controllers lost radio contact with the plane around 5:20 a.m. Moments later it plunged to Earth, narrowly missing a densely populated residential area on the outskirts of Perm.
“As the plane was coming in for landing, it lost communication at the height of 1,100 metres and air controllers lost its blip,” an Aeroflot statement said.
Within city limits
“The airplane was found within Perm’s city limits completely destroyed and on fire,” it added.
One witness described seeing the plane pass over his house before watching in horror as it exploded and sent massive chunks of burning wreckage flying to the ground.
“The plane was flying over our building, falling, and it hit the ground about 200 metres (650 feet) away and broke up,” a local resident, who only gave his name as Maxim, told AFP.
“It blew up in the air, the pieces fell on the ground. The main part containing the passengers fell in a dacha (country house) area with gardens. It didn’t hit the main residential area.”
Vesti-24 showed smoking hot metal strewn across a wooded area and investigators combing through the dark with flashlights. Later pictures showed clothes and other possessions scattered far and wide.
The airline confirmed there were no survivors and said the dead included nine people from Azerbaijan, five from Ukraine and one each from France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Switzerland and Turkey.
One passenger was said to be American but U.S. officials were checking that information. Six of the dead were crew.
Adviser to Putin
Among the victims was Gen. Gennady Troshev, a former top commander of Russia’s war in Chechnya and adviser to ex-president Vladimir Putin, Interfax news agency reported, citing Russia’s transport ministry.
The airline set up a crisis centre at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and in Perm for relatives of the victims and pledged compensation of up to two million rubles ($80,000) for each person lost.
It was the worst air disaster involv- ing a Russian airliner since a Tupolev154 flying to Saint Petersburg went down near the Ukrainian city of Donetsk in August 2006, killing all 170 passengers on board.
Police said that the plane wreckage on the tracks had forced the closure of a stretch of the Trans-Siberian railway between Perm and Yekaterinburg.
The plane had been leased in July by Aeroflot from a Dublin-based company Pinewatch Limited until March 2013, the airline said. It was not clear how old it was.
The flight was operated by AeroflotNord, a regional subsidiary of Russia’s largest carrier.
An air safety commission announced in January that the average age of the country’s international airliners was 18 years, and its regional jets 30 years.