44 killed in Russian plane crash, 8 survivors


ST PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — A Russian passenger jet crashed in heavy fog and burst into flames on a highway in northwestern Russia, killing 44 people, officials said. Eight people survived.

The Tu-134 plane, belonging to the RusAir airline, had taken off from Moscow and was moments from landing at the airport of Petrozavodsk when it slammed into the highway just before midnight Monday, Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Oksana Semyonova told The Associated Press.

The ministry said in a statement on its website that 44 people were killed, including four with dual US and Russian citizenship. Eight survivors, including a mother and her sons, nine and 14 were hospitalised in critical condition in Petrozavodsk.

The ministry said the crash happened just outside a small village, but no casualties were reported on the ground.

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

Russia’s top investigative agency said bad weather, human error or a technical malfunction might have contributed to the crash.

Adding to the difficulty of landing the plane in deep fog, the runway’s high-intensity illumination intended to help the crew at times of low visibility failed just as the plane was on its final approach, said Alexei Morozov, deputy head of the Interstate Aviation Committee, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The airport’s chief, Alexei Kuzmitsky told the Interfax news agency that according to preliminary information, the descending plane clipped a power line, cutting off the runway lights.

RusAir said the plane was in good working order.

The Tu-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 capacity of 68 people and a range of about 1,240 miles.

Magomed Tolboyev, a highly decorated veteran Russian test pilot, said that the Tu-134, while outdated, has a good reputation for its reliability and that human error was the most likely cause. "The human factor is always key, especially now when the level of crew training is very low and not controlled by the government," Tolboyev said, according to Interfax.

Russian television stations broadcast footage of charred plane fragments strewn around the highway, less than one kilometre (about half a mile) short of the runway. Landing gear jutting out from the ground was the only recognisable plane part.

The state news network Rossia-24 broadcast footage of a woman showing a video she shot on her phone of the plane burning on the highway. A nearby road sign indicating the way to the airport stood undamaged.

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