A Russian passenger plane crashed into a snowy field in Siberia shortly after take-off, killing at least 31 of the 43 people on board, officials said.
The ATR 72, a twin-engine, turbo-propeller airplane, crashed on Monday about 30-35km from the western Siberian city of Tyumen.
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Russia’s Air Transport Agency said that communication with the flight deck was lost almost immediately after the aircraft was airbourne, Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reported from Moscow.
It came down in a field about three kilometers away from the Tyumen airport, breaking into three sections upon impact. Part of it was destroyed by a fire that burned at least six people to death, said Sergei Kiselyov, the police chief at the Roshchino airport in Tyumen.
Russian emergency officials said several of the crash victims were hospitalised in serious condition.
The airline, UTair, said in a statement that the plane crashed shortly after take-off “while conducting a forced landing” outside Roshchino airport.
“We’re also hearing that two black boxes, the flight recorders, have been recovered from the flight,” Stratford said, citing state media.
The plane took off took off at 7:40am (01:40 GMT) from Tyumen, a regional center in Siberia about 1,700km east of Moscow, heading for the oil town of Surgut, about 650km away, when it crashed.
According to Russian news agencies, the plane disappeared from radar screens shortly after take-off and crashed at around 7:50am (01:50 GMT).
Children among victims
The emergencies ministry said 232 rescue workers and investigators had been dispatched to the crash site.
Rescue teams found the plane’s cabin ablaze along with other debris.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but investigators said evidence so far points to a technical failure of the French/Italian-made twin-engine aircraft.
They noted that witnesses reported seeing smoke coming from its engines as the plane came down and said the pilots had tried to return to the airport.
The federal investigative committee said the plane had notched up 35,000 flying hours since going into operation in 1992 and had not had a “serious” technical check since 2010.
The committee said that while equipment failure appeared to be the most likely cause of the crash, pilot error or mistakes by traffic controllers had not been ruled out.
Russia’s civil aviation chief Alexander Neradko said the plane appeared to have been improperly de-iced. “The treatment of the plane with de-icing agents was not done at the necessary level,” he was quoted by the state news agency RIA-Novosti.
However, Neradko added that there was no basis yet “to connect this with the causes of the crash”.
The aircraft burst into flames and broke into pieces upon impact, Russia Today television said. It also said that children were among the victims of the crash.
“This particular airline does have a history of air accidents… but at this point there are no details on exactly what happened,” our correspondent said.
“The investigation committee says it is looking into the pilots medical records and focusing on whether the crash was caused by technical malfunction or human error,” he added.