Passenger jet crashes in Russia, killing 50: ministry

The plane hit the surface of the runway near the air traffic control tower

A Boeing 737 operated by a Russian airline crashed on Sunday while attempting to land in the city of Kazan, killing all 50 on board, Russia's emergency situations ministry said.

"According to preliminary information, all the people on board the flight, 44 passengers and six crew members, were killed," a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

"The Boeing 737 that flew out of Moscow's Domodedovo airport with 44 passengers crashed onto the runway at Kazan airport on landing and burst into flames," Russia's Investigative Committee, which probes serious incidents, said in a statement.

The emergency situations ministry posted photographs of fragments of the plane scattered across the runway outside Kazan, which is around 720 kilometres (450 miles) east of Moscow in the Tatarstan region.

The 23-year-old plane, owned by Tatarstan Airlines, was making a second attempt to land, the spokesman for Russia's civil aviation authority, Sergei Izvolsky, told the Interfax news agency.

"We know for sure that when the plane made a second attempt at landing, for some reason, the plane hit the surface of the runway near the air traffic control tower, as a result of which the plane crashed and burnt."

The plane's black boxes have not yet been found, Izvolsky said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his "deep condolences to the relatives and loved ones of those who died in the plane crash at Kazan airport," the Kremlin said in a statement.

"After receiving a report on the air crash, the head of state ordered the government to urgently form a commission to investigate the reasons and circumstances of what happened."

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Twitter: "With all my heart I grieve for the relatives, friends and loved ones of the victims. A terrible tragedy."

The emergency ministry named 44 victims, saying that six were still being identified. The airline named the chief pilot as 47-year-old Rustem Salikhov.

Among the dead was the 24-year-old son of the leader of the Tatarstan region, Irek Minnikhanov, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing the region's deputy prime minister.

The airline named two girls aged 11 and 15, as among those on the flight.

The head of the region's FSB security service, General-Lieutenant Alexander Antonov, also died in the crash, a member of the disaster management team told RIA Novosti.

Emergency landing last year

The Investigative Committee said an inquiry had been opened to determine whether there had been any "violation of aviation security rules" and added that several inspectors had been sent to the scene of the crash.

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Rossiya 24 television that "we are looking at a technical failure, crew error, weather conditions or poor quality fuel."

The plane's crew told air traffic control as the plane was 500 metres from the runway that "it was not in landing position," a source in the disaster investigation told Interfax.

The plane, which had been flying since 1990, last year made an emergency landing shortly after taking off at the same airport, Interfax also reported.

The airline, founded in 2000, has a fleet of eight planes, including two Boeing-737s, according to its website.

The Life News website reported that the plane had originally been flown by Air France before being operated by airlines in Uganda, Brazil, Romania and Bulgaria.

The plane underwent repairs after making a rough landing in Brazil in 2001, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Tatarstan Airlines bought the plane in 2008, Life News said.

Russia has experienced a string of deadly air crashes, usually involving small and poorly regulated regional airlines that sprang up across Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Kazan is the capital city of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, which has a large Muslim population. Muslim and Christian clerics arrived to comfort relatives, Rossiya 24 television reported.

Tatarstan announced a day of mourning on Monday.

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