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29 die, 24 survive in Russia plane crash

A Russian airliner slammed into the ground and caught fire Wednesday while trying to land near an oil port along the Arctic coast., killing At least 29 people.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A 1970s-era Russian turboprop airliner carrying oil workers slammed into the ground and caught fire Wednesday while trying to land near an oil port along the Arctic coast. At least 29 people were killed in the crash, which officials said came after the plane’s tail began to fall apart.

Some of the 24 survivors, shivering in temperatures of minus-11 Fahrenheit, used a satellite phone to call authorities from the wreckage near Varandei in the Nenets autonomous region, about 1,110 miles northeast of Moscow. Rescuers quickly reached the site, authorities said.

Emergency workers bundled in heavy coats loaded stretchers with the injured into ambulances, as clouds of exhaust from the vehicles billowed into the frigid air, according to footage shown on state-run Rossiya television.

The passengers were employees and contract workers for affiliates of Russia’s largest oil company, Lukoil, who were on their way to begin work stints, company spokesman Mikhail Mikhailov told The Associated Press. He had no immediate information about their nationalities.

There were 46 passengers and seven crew members aboard the Regional Airlines An-24 plane. Regional is a small private carrier.

10 in serious condition
Twenty-nine people were killed in the afternoon crash, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. Of the 24 survivors, 10 were in grave condition. The 19 most seriously hurt were evacuated by helicopter to the regional capital, Naryan-Mar, while the five others were taken to Varandei.

An investigation was under way into the cause of the crash.

The plane was approaching the airport when it suddenly banked and slammed into the ground near Varandei.

The pilot “reported that he saw the runway” shortly before the crash, Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Gennady Korotkin said on Rossiya. Citing eyewitnesses, he said the plane was heading for a forced landing after the tail section began to fall apart.

“Then (the plane) fell on its left side, there was a fire — and that’s it,” Korotkin said.

The plane had departed from the city of Ufa in the southern Ural Mountains region and made stopovers in the cities of Perm and Usinsk before continuing on to Varandei.

The An-24 is a Soviet-designed turboprop airliner built in the 1960s for short and medium-length trips. Hundreds are still in service with airlines in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and analysts have warned that small airlines have had trouble properly maintaining the aging aircraft.

'Experienced crew'
The Transport Ministry said in a statement that the plane that crashed was built in 1972 and had been repaired 10 times, the latest in 2002. The plane’s chief pilot, Viktor Popov, who apparently died in the crash, had logged up 14,000 flight hours, it said.

“It was a very experienced crew,” the chief of the Transport Ministry’s aviation department, Alexander Neradko, said in televised comments.

Russia’s Lukoil oil company is currently upgrading the Varandei port on the Arctic Pechora Sea. Lukoil and U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips have established a joint venture, Rusco, to develop the oil-rich fields in the Timan-Pechora region with the intention of ultimately shipping crude to the United States from Varandei.