At least 44 people have been killed in a plane crash in northwestern Russia, according to officials.

The RussAir Tupolev 134 was trying to land at its destination of Petrozavodsk airport in the Karelia region in bad weather conditions but failed to make the runway and instead hurtled onto a road two kilometres away.

The 30-year-old plane broke up into fragments and erupted into flames as it made contact with the ground, the Karelia branch of the emergencies ministry said in a statement on its website on Tuesday.

In a catastrophic sequence of events, officials said the plane appeared to have hit a power line as it circled the airport in the bad weather, triggering a power cut which switched off the runway lighting.

Sergei Ivanov, the Russian deputy prime minister, cited pilot error as the most likely cause of the crash.

"From the initial external data the pilot's mistake is clear - in bad weather conditions he veered to the right of the runway and in foggy conditions searched for the runway visually until the last minute (and) did not find it," Ivanov said in France on a visit with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Alexei Kuzmitsky, the head of the Petrozavodsk airport, also thought that pilot error was to be blamed."The Tu-134 hit a power line due to pilot error, cut it, depriving the runway of power," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

View a map of major Russian plane crashes since 2001

Images published on the ministry's website showed wreckage strewn across the road and an inhabited area perilously close in the background. The plane, flying from Moscow's Domodedovo airport, carried 43 passengers and nine crew members.

"The scene is terrible. It's carnage. It was a miracle that fragments of the fuselage did not hit houses on the edge of the village of Besovets," a source in the aviation industry told the Interfax news agency. "Corpses are strewn over the highway."

The force of the crash scattered wreckage to a distance of 300 metres, investigators said. Eight people who survived the accident were badly injured, officials said.

Andrei Nelidov, the head of the Karelia region, has travelled to the scene of the crash and will later hold an emergency meeting with prosecutors and the FSB security service.

Russia's Karelia region, which lies close to the border with Finland, is a picturesque area of lakes and forests hugely popular with Russian tourists for the summer holidays.

Irina Andrianova, an emergencies ministry spokeswoman, told Interfax that seven of the eight injured were "in an extremely serious condition" and all the casualties were receiving treatment for burns.

The lifenews.ru website said a child named as Anton Terekhin, 10, was among the survivors.

Questionable safety record

However, the inter-state air commission (MAK), which investigates air accidents in the former Soviet Union, said it was premature to draw conclusions.

The plane's flight data recorders have been located.

RussAir officials told Russian news agencies that the plane, made in 1981, had been completely checked before take-off and there had been no technical issues with the aircraft.

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman of the Russian Investigative Committee, told news agencies that a criminal probe was being opened into neglect of air transport rules.

Russia's aviation industry remains blighted by repeated accidents involving its ageing fleet of planes, with the Soviet-era Tupolev jets having a particularly poor safety record.

In April last year, a Tu-154 carrying Polish president Lech Kaczynski and other top officials came down in fog near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing all 96 people on board.

Meanwhile, in September, a Tu-154 plane made a miraculous emergency landing on a derelict airstrip in Russia's remote Komi region after its electrical systems failed midflight.

Source: Agencies