A similar Russian Tu-154 aircraft made an emergency landing near Moscow on December 4, 2010 [Reuters]

Emergency ministry officials say three people have died and another 43 have been injured when a Russian passenger jet exploded after an engine caught fire while it was taxiing for take-off at the western Siberian airport of Surgut.

Vadim Grebennikov, an emergency services spokesman, said 124 passengers and crew were evacuated before the explosion, which destroyed the aircraft and caused flames to spread across an area of 1,000sq m.

Grebinnikov said 10 people had been seriously injured, including six who were badly burned and four who suffered broken bones or other trauma.

Most of the other injured passengers sought treatment for poisoning after inhaling toxic fumes that filled the cabin after the plane caught fire.

The plane started to burn while taxiing on the runway at Surgut before takeoff, an investigative committee of prosecutors said in a statement.

They said that a criminal probe had been opened to look into the possibility of violations of air transport security rules.

Igor Levitin, the Russian transport minister, said that it was not clear what had caused the fire.

"The specialists do not understand what sparked the fire," he said.

'Panic' on board

Among the passengers on board were members of the Russian music group Na-Na, who described the panic on board the jet.

"When the engines were started up, something went wrong and the outer covering of the plane caught fire,'' Vladimir Politov, a group member, said by telephone, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

"We had trouble opening the emergency exits and people began to really panic, with some of them running right through the flames."

"There was a thick, black smoke and people started to panic. They were literally stepping on each other's heads," said Sergei Grigoriyev, a singer with the group.

"I saw my life flash before me," he said according to the ITAR-TASS news agency.

RIA reported the jet as being operated by the regional Kogalymavia airline, with the flight bound for Moscow.

Last month, two people were killed and 83 injured in an accident involving an engine failure on another Tu-154 aircraft in Russia. In that incident, two of the aircraft's three engines failed shortly after takeoff, with the third failing as the plane made an emergency landing.

Source: Agencies