Video: Russian plane crash kills 44

msnbc.com news services
updated 6/21/2011 7:05:25 AM ET 2011-06-21T11:05:25

An airliner crashed in heavy fog and burst into flames about a mile short of a runway in northwestern Russia, killing 44 people, officials said. Eight survivors were dragged from the burning wreckage by locals.

The Tupolev 134 plane, belonging to the RusAir airline, was en route from Moscow to the city of Petrozavodsk, Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Oksana Semyonova said.

The plane's approach was too low, so it clipped a tree and then hit a high-power line — causing Besovets airport's runway lights to go off for 10 seconds — before slamming into the ground, said Sergei Izvolsky, a spokesman for the Russian air transport agency.

"Everything was on fire," a witness who declined to give his name told a television crew.

The emergencies ministry said 44 people were killed, including four with dual U.S. and Russian citizenship. Russian news agencies said Russian Premier League soccer referee Vladimir Pettay and a Swedish citizen were also among the victims.

Eight survivors, including a 10-year-old boy and a female flight attendant, were hospitalized.

"The child was in a very grave condition," a medical worker told local TV.

The federal air transport agency chief, Alexander Neradko, said that preliminary information indicated the plane appeared to be intact when hit a 49-foot pine tree. "There is no sign of a fire or explosion on board the plane before the impact," he said.

Pilot error was the most likely cause, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday.

Low visibility
Sergei Shmatkov, an air traffic controller who oversaw the plane's approach, was quoted by the lifenews.ru website as saying the visibility near the airport was close to the minimum admissible level at the time of the crash, but the pilot still decided to land.

"The crew continued their descent at a moment when they already should have begun a second run," he was quoted as saying.

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Shmatkov said he ordered the crew to abort the landing the moment the runway lights went off, but it already was too late.

A video made by a witness on her cell phone showed flames soaring from the wreckage into the night sky and the plane's wheels lying upside down by the roadside.

"I managed to take a woman or a girl out of there, she was light," www.lifenews.ruquoted one witness as saying. He said he and his father had removed several more people before the plane blew up.

"I didn't have time to do anything else, it all started to explode," he said. "There was no way to get close."

Image: Police officer at site of the plane crash near Petrozavodsk, Russia
Vladimir Larionov  /  Reuters
A police officer stands at the site of the plane crash near Petrozavodsk, Russia, on Tuesday.

Petrozavodsk is in Karelia province, near the Finnish border, about 400 miles northwest of Moscow.

The Tupolev 134, along with its larger sibling the Tu-154, has been the workhorse of Soviet and Russian civil aviation since the 1960s. The model that crashed was built in 1980, had a 68-person capacity and a range of about 1,240 miles.

Black box recorders found
The Karelia branch of the Emergencies Ministry said radio contact with the pilot was lost at 11:40 p.m. local time (3:40 p.m. ET). The black box flight data recorders have been recovered, the news agencies said.

The accident occurred on the eve of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's planned appearance Tuesday at the Paris Air Show to support dozens of Russian firms seeking sales contracts.

Slideshow: Paris Air Show 2011

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who has swapped his Tupolev for a French-made executive jet, in April criticized flaws in domestically-built planes and the nation's poor safety record.

Russia and the other former Soviet republics have some of the world's worst air traffic safety records, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Experts blame weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality for the poor safety record, leading to emergency landings being reported with alarming regularity.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski was among 96 people killed when his Tu-154 crashed in heavy fog while trying to land near the western city of Smolensk in April 2010. In 2006, three crashes — two in Russia and one in Ukraine — killed more than 400 people.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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