Saturday, September 13, 2008

Airplane crash in Russia

MOSCOW, (AFP) - - A Boeing-737 jet crashed near Russia's city of Perm in the central Ural mountains killing all 82 passengers and six crew on board, including 21 foreigners, the jet's owner Aeroflot said Sunday.

"The Boeing-737 carried 82 passengers on board, including seven children, and six crew... All passengers were killed," Aeroflot said in a statement.

"There are foreign citizens among the victims, including nine from Azerbaijan, five from Ukraine, and one each from France, Switzerland, Latvia, the United States, Germany, Turkey and Italy," the statement said.

Earlier the company denied that any foreigners were killed in the accident.

"As the plane was coming in for landing, it lost communication at the height of 1,100 meters and air controllers lost its blip. The airplane was found within Perm's city limits completely destroyed and on fire," the statement added.

Earlier, investigator Vladimir Markin was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying that "there were 82 passengers plus a baby and five crew on board, and by preliminary information, they are all dead" as the airplane "fell into a ravine near the city limits."

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.

An emergency situations ministry source quoted by RIA Novosti also claimed it was possible that three people who bought a ticket for the ill-fated flight 821 to Perm did not get on board.

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

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.

One of the airplane's two black boxes was found among the wreckage, officials quoted by RIA Novosti said, adding that it was already handed over to experts for decoding.

Aeroflot set up a crisis center for the victims' relatives both in Moscow's Sheremetyevo-1 airport and in Perm, including psychological aid, the company said.

The airline also pledged to pay "compensation on obligatory accident insurance in full, which would make up to two million rubles (some 80,000 dollars) per victim," the company's statement said.

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 was due to fly out to the site.

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.

The airplane had been leased by Aeroflot from a Dublin-based company Pinewatch Limited in late July until March 2013, Aeroflot 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.

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