71 dead, no survivors in Russian passenger plane crash

No Israelis believed to have been on board; black box recovered; human error or weather suspected cause of accident

A Russian emergency employee stands next to flowers, in tribute to a plane crash victims, placed under of the flight schedule timetables at the Domodedovo International Airport, outside Moscow, February 11, 2018. (Maxim ZMEYEV/AFP)
A Russian emergency employee stands next to flowers, in tribute to a plane crash victims, placed under of the flight schedule timetables at the Domodedovo International Airport, outside Moscow, February 11, 2018. (Maxim ZMEYEV/AFP)

STEPANOVSKOYE, Russia (AFP) — A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed near Moscow on Sunday minutes after taking off, killing everyone on board in one of the country’s worst ever aviation disasters.

Investigators said the Antonov An-148 plane crashed in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow at 2:48 pm (1128 GMT) after taking off from the capital’s Domodedovo airport.

“Sixty-five passengers and six crew members were on board, and all of them died,” Russia’s office of transport investigations said in a statement.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that there did not seem to be any Israeli citizens on board the plane.

The flight was operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines and was headed for Orsk, a city in the Ural mountains.

An aerial view of Russian emergency vehicles arriving near to the site of air crash, taken in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow, February 11, 2018. (Dmitry SEREBRYAKOV/AFP)

President Vladimir Putin offered “his profound condolences to those who lost their relatives in the crash,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Snowbound crash site

The crash site was enveloped in heavy snow, making it difficult to access, with emergency workers forced to park their vehicles and reach the wreckage by foot.

Russia has experienced record snowfall in recent weeks and investigators said they would not rule out poor weather as a possible cause of the disaster.

A regional official said the aircraft’s black box had been retrieved.

The Russian-made plane was reportedly 7-years-old, and bought by Saratov Airlines from another Russian airline a year ago.

In this image made from television, Russian firemen work at the site of the AN-148 jet crash in the Belgorod region about 600 kilometers (350 miles) south of Moscow, March 5, 2011. (Rossiya TV Channel/AP/File)

Putin orders probe

Emergency services said in a statement that more than 150 rescue workers were deployed to the site.

The transport investigations office said the plane disappeared from radar screens around four minutes after take-off.

The Russian transport minister was on his way to the crash site, agencies reported. The transport ministry said several causes for the crash were being considered, including weather conditions and human error.

Peskov said Putin had ordered the establishment of a special commission to probe the crash.

The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was flying to, told Russian media that “more than 60 people” on board the plane were from the region.

Prosecutors opened an investigation into Saratov Airlines following the crash. Russia’s Investigative Committee will consider all possible causes, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Saratov Airlines was founded in the 1930s and flies to 35 Russian cities. Its hub is Saratov Central Airport in southern Russia.

Police block the road near the site of air crash outside Moscow, on February 11, 2018. (Vasily MAXIMOV/AFP)

Grieving relatives

Local media website in the Orenburg region showed footage of distressed relatives at Orsk airport, where the plane was due to land.

Andrei Odintsov, the mayor of the city of Orsk, told Russian state television that six psychologists and four ambulances with medics were working with the relatives in the small airport.

Orsk is the second biggest city in the Orenburg region, near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan.

History of crashes

Russia has suffered numerous plane crashes, with airlines often operating ageing aircraft in dangerous flying conditions.

A light aircraft crashed in Russia’s far east in November, killing six people on board.

In December 2016, a military plane carrying Russia’s famed Red Army Choir crashed after taking off from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, killing all 92 people on board.

The choir had been due to give a concert to Russian troops operating in Syria.

Pilot error was blamed for that crash.

In March 2016, all 62 passengers died when a FlyDubai jet crashed in bad weather during an aborted landing at Rostov-on-Don airport.

The Antonov An-148, released in 2004, has a range of 3,600 kilometers (2,200 miles) and can carry 80 passengers.

Illustrative: An Antonov AN-148 passenger jet taxing after landing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, December 24, 2009. (Mitya Aleshkovsky/AP/File)

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