88 killed in airplane crash in Russia’s Urals


MOSCOW – An Aeroflot Boeing-737 jet crashed near Russia’s city of Perm in the central Ural mountains killing all 83 passengers and five crew on board, Russian news agencies reported Sunday quoting emergency ministry officials.

“According to the latest information, the airplane fell into a ravine near the city limits. There were 82 passengers plus a baby and five crew on board, and by preliminary information, they are all dead,” investigator Vladimir Markin told the RIA Novosti news agency.

“The airplane caught fire and exploded, and in circumstances like that there is no hope that anyone could have survived,” Interfax quoted emergency ministry officials as saying.

However, a ministry source quoted by RIA Novosti said that the plane fell just meters away from apartment houses, and that the entire area was cordoned off by police to help investigators.

The wreckage was strewn over some four square kilometers, officials said, adding that the flames had been completely put out.

“The airplane took off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport at 0112 Sunday (2112 Saturday GMT), but as it was landing, at the height of 1,800 meters we lost contact with it,” the ministry’s spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said earlier as quoted by Interfax.

A total of seven children, including a baby, were on board, the spokesman for Russia’s leading Aeroflot airline company, which owned the jet, said.

No foreign nationals were on board the airplane, Aeroflot added.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear, though a source quoted by RIA Novosti suggested that an engine failure could have sparked flames on board and led to the crash.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu reported the accident to Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin press service said.

An investigative group headed by Transport Minister Igor Levitin is due to fly out to the site shortly.

The emergency situations ministry considered sending a rescue team to the site from Moscow, but later reported that “Perm had sufficient resources to deal with the search and rescue mission and decided to delay sending out experts from Moscow.”

The Trans-Siberian Railway, which was damaged in the accident, had been cut off on the stretch between Perm and Yekaterinburg, and all trains put on detour, local police officials said.

Last year, the 33 Russian aviation accidents that left 318 dead — a sixfold increase over 2005 — raised serious concerns about Russia’s civil aviation, with experts pointing at major faults in the professional training of crews as well as Russia’s aging fleet of passenger jets.

An air safety commission announced in January that the average age of the country’s international airliners was 18, and its regional jets 30 years.