Russian Plane Crashes Near Moscow, Killing All 71 Aboard

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A Russian plane carrying 71 people crashed shortly after takeoff in the Moscow region on Sunday afternoon, killing all on board.Published OnFeb. 11, 2018CreditImage by Reuters

ByNeil MacFarquhar and Ivan Nechepurenko

Russian Plane Crashes Near Moscow, Killing All 71 Aboard
Russian Plane Crashes Near Moscow, Killing All 71 Aboard

Feb. 11, 2018

MOSCOW — A Russian plane carrying 71 people crashed near Moscow shortly after takeoff on Sunday afternoon, killing all on board.

Flight 703, operated by the Russian regional carrier Saratov Airlines, was carrying 65 passengers and six crew members. The plane went down near the village of Stepanovskoe, about 50 miles southeast of Moscow in the Ramenskoe District, according to astatement from theRussian Emergency Situations Ministry.

There were no survivors, Moscow’s regional transportation prosecutor-general confirmed.

The Russian aviation authority, Rosaviatsia, said the flight departed at 2:21 p.m. from Domodedovo Airport. The Antonov AN-148, a small regional jet, was headed to the city of Orsk in the Orenburg region, about 1,000 miles southeast of Moscow, near the border with Kazakhstan.

“Several minutes after takeoff, radio connection with the crew disappeared, the plane’s mark disappeared from radars,” theEmergency Situations Ministry said.

FlightRadar24, an online site that tracks real-time flight information, shows the plane losing altitude just six minutes after takeoff. It reached 6,400 feet before dropping to 5,800 feet, rising again briefly and falling sharply — all within one minute.

Most passengers on board were residents of the region, the Interfax news agency quoted an Orenburg official as saying.

The Emergency Situations Ministry posted the names of the passengers and crew members online Sunday afternoon, showing that at least three children were on board the plane. A spokeswoman for the Orsk city administration, Yelena Abramova, Interfax that one of the passengers was a Swiss citizen.

Fragments of the plane and many bodies were discovered near Stepanovskoe, the official news agency Tass reported, citing a spokesman for the Emergency Services ministry.

The ministry added that “rescue workers, ambulances and firefighters” were headed to the site of the crash, an open field.

“The snow is deep, we need heavy-duty equipment,” Andrei Kulakov, head of the Ramenskoe District said in an interview broadcast by the news channel Rossiya 24.

Video broadcast from the site showed safety workers slogging through snowy fields scattered with low shrubs to try to reach the crash site and a piece of the plane burrowed into the snow. .

President Vladimir V. Putin expressed his condolences and ordered his cabinet to create a commission to investigate the crash, according to a statement on the Kremlin website.

Footage from the Orsk airport showed Russians pacing and wailing as news of the crash spread.

A government watchdog agency cited Saratov Airlines, a regional carrier, for safety concerns in December, but its report focused on the storage of flammable materials on the ground, not on its airplanes.

Emergency services crews at the site of the crash. Fragments of the plane and many bodies were discovered near Stepanovskoe, Russia, Tass reported.CreditMaxim Shemetov/Reuters

Both the federal transportation agency and the prosecutor’s office in the carrier’s home region opened investigations into the cause of the crash of Sunday.

Outdated equipment and a lack of government oversight plagued Russian aviation for years after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and there were frequent crashes. But in recent years, the industry’s safety record has improved markedly as major airlines have invested in fleets of Western airplanes.

The most recent devastating crash occurred on Dec. 25, 2016, when a Tupulov TU-154 operated by the Ministry of Defense and headed for Syria plunged into the Black Sea moments after taking off from the southern resort of Sochi. All 92 people on board died, including many members of a military choir traveling to Syria to entertain the troops.

In March 2016, all 62 people on board a FlyDubai 737 died when it crashed on landing at Rostov-on-Don.

The third most recent aviation disaster was attributed to a terrorist act. In October 2015, a Russian charter flight ferrying 224 passengers and crew members to St. Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, crashed soon after taking off, killing everyone on board.

After months of cautious silence, Egypt acknowledged that terrorists had most likely brought down the plane.

Saratov Airlines has a fleet of 12 airplanes, five AN-148 aircraft among them. They were built by Antonov Enterprise, a Ukrainian company. One crashed in 2011 during a training flight, when the crew exceeded its maximum speed.

The plane that went down on Sunday, built in 2010, was initially part of the fleet of Rossiya airline, but it was in storage for two years before being leased to Saratov a year ago.

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