71 feared dead as Russian plane crashes near Moscow
A Russian plane crashed in the outskirts of Moscow on Sunday after vanishing from radars, killing all 71 people on board.
The Saratov Airlines An-148 jet, was en route to the city of Orsk when it vanished from radar and plunged into a field.
"The plane crashed near the village of Argunovo. Passengers as well as the crew could hardly survive," a Russian emergency services source told local media.
Eyewitnesses in Argunovo said they saw a burning plane falling from the sky, while rescue workers were unable to reach the crash site by road and had to approach on foot.
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Video footage obtained by Russian media showed plane debris scattered across a snow-covered field.
Moscow plane crash – Argunovo map
Russian news agencies quoted official sources saying that no one had survived the crash of the Saratov Airlines flight.
Flight records showed that four minutes after takeoff the plane suddenly plunged to the ground from a height of 6,000 feet, crashing in rural area in the Moscow region.
Interfax news agency reported that technical fault was the leading suspected cause of the crash, and that investigators were analysing the plane’s black box.
The temperature was -5C with light snow near Domodedovo airport on Sunday afternoon, which is not extreme or challenging weather for this time of year. A meteorologist told state television channel Rossiya 24 that there had not been particularly strong or suddenly changing winds.
“Meteorological conditions probably couldn’t have directly or indirectly affected the development of the catastrophic situation,” said Yevgeny Tishkovets.
President Vladimir Putin “expresses deep condolences to all those who lost family and loved ones in this catastrophe,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state news agency TASS.
Mr Putin also ordered the government to create a special commission to look into the causes of the crash. Investigative committee head Alexander Bastrykin personally went to the site of the crash, and the transport oversight agency said it would do a safety audit of Saratov Airlines.
Video from the area of the crash uploaded on social media showed fragments of the plane in a snowy field. The person filming the video said letters could be seen on the ground.
Reports said a Russian postal service helicopter had collided with the plane, but the postal service denied it had any helicopters or was involved in any way with the tragedy.
Relatives of the plane’s passengers have gathered at the airport in Orsk in the Orenburg region, its intended destination. The emergencies ministry opened a hotline offering information about the tragedy and psychological assistance.
Footage from the Orsk airport showed emergency ministries personnel arriving there, and psychologists were on hand at the airport to speak with relatives.
The ill-fated An-148 was built in Voronezh, Russia, in 2010.
In a statement, Russia’s transport agency said: "The An-148 passenger plane of the Saratov Airlin took off from the Domodedovo airport at 14:21 Moscow time.
"According to preliminary data, there were 65 passengers and six crew members aboard the plane. Radio contact with the plane was lost several minutes after the takeoff and the plane went off radar."
The emergencies ministry told state news agency TASS that “fragments of the An-148 plane and several bodies” had been found near the village of Stepanovskoye.
Видео с места крушения самолета. pic.twitter.com/y8vikN1akP
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Emergencies, medical and law enforcement personnel were working at the crash site.
Andrei Odintsov, mayor of Orsk, told Rossiya 24 that all those on the plane were residents of the Orenburg region and said “calls are starting to come in from relatives”.
“The main task for us is to check the passenger list, today we have the names but we need to establish their addresses and relatives,” he said.
A Rossiya 24 correspondent at the Orsk airport said people were coming to check lists of people killed.
“People are still arriving here and trying to find out if their loved ones or friends were among the dead,” she said.
Local news site Ural56 published the list of 65 passengers who had been on the flight.
One of the names on the list was Tamerlan Aknazarov. A social media page for a man by that name living in Orsk listed his age as 32. It had last been active a little over an hour before the flight took off.
In photos, Mr Aknazarov was shown posing with friends and riding a horse. He had posted videos about maintaining cars and an image of the popular game World of Tanks.
According to an Orsk social media page listed under the name of another passenger, Svetlana Machneva, she was a single mother with a 16-year-old daughter.
Saratov Airlines is a small company with 13 planes and has not suffered previous fatal crashes.