Aeroflot Jet Crashes in Perm, 88 Dead

APA piece of fuselage from an Aeroflot Boeing 737-500 lying at the crash site on the outskirts of Perm early Sunday. The jet crashed as it prepared to land.
A Boeing 737 that Aeroflot had operated for just seven weeks crashed minutes before landing in Perm on Sunday, killing all 88 people on board.

The plane burst into a ball of fire at an altitude of about one kilometer, apparently after an engine caught fire, scattering debris across an area of 10 square kilometers, officials said.

Among the dead were Gennady Troshev, 61, former commander of the armed forces in Chechnya, and 22 foreigners, including citizens of France, Germany, Italy and the United States.

The plane, which originated in Moscow, was making a second attempt at landing in "difficult" weather conditions, Aeroflot spokesman Lev Koshlyakov said in televised comments.

A preliminary investigation indicated that the accident probably occurred because one of the plane's two engines caught fire in midair, said Alexander Bastrykin, chief of the Investigative Committee at the Prosecutor General's Office.


Evgeny Malychev / Reuters
Firefighters and investigators working at the crash site Sunday outside Perm.
"It appears to have been a malfunction and ignition of the right engine. A lot of things point to that," he said on NTV television. "But we will also investigate other versions."

Terrorism, however, has been ruled out, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said.

Aeroflot took out a lease on the 16-year-old 737-500 from Ireland's Pinewatch Limited on July 28, the airline said. The plane, which previously had been operated by China's Xiamen Airlines, was flown by Aeroflot subsidiary Aeroflot Nord.

Initial reports suggested that a technical problem might have been responsible for the crash, but safety officials cast doubt on that possibility. The aircraft successfully passed its latest maintenance test on Sept. 7, said Federal Air Transportation Agency chief Yevgeny Bachurin, Interfax reported.


MT
Troshev
Also, the plane was not old by industry standards, aviation experts said.

The plane disappeared from the radar screen and lost radio contact with air traffic controllers when it descended to 1,100 meters, Aeroflot said. It crashed on the outskirts of Perm at 5:10 a.m., slamming into the ground near the tracks of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, sending rails flying up to 50 meters.

The plane's fragments flew apart over an area covering 10 square kilometers, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

Test pilot Anatoly Kvochur said the wide spread of the debris supported the possibility of a midair explosion, Interfax reported. A burning engine might have detonated fuel on board the aircraft, he said.

A Perm resident told Channel One television that the plane was ablaze before it crashed. "It was like a comet," she said. The report did not give her name.

The crash did not damage one-story wooden houses or several larger apartment buildings near the crash site.

"The pilots most likely tried to avert a collision with the buildings," said a source in the Perm department of the Emergency Situations Ministry, RIA-Novosti reported.

The impact produced flames that surged higher than a 10-story building, an eyewitness wrote in on a blog at www.teron.ru.

"It sends shivers up and down my spine when I think that it could have hit our building if the explosion had happened two seconds earlier," another blogger wrote on the web site.















Major Plane Crashes
Here are some of the more serious passenger plane crashes of the past decade involving the airlines serving Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Sept. 14, 2008: 88 people are killed when an Aeroflot Boeing 737-500 flying from Moscow crashes as it prepares to land in Perm.

Aug. 24, 2008: a Boeing 737-500 owned by Kyrgyzstan's Itek Air and operated by Iran Aseman Airlines, crashes shortly after takeoff near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, killing 65 of the 90 people on board.

Aug. 22, 2006: A Pulkovo Airlines Tu-154 with about 170 people aboard crashes in Ukraine en route from a Russian resort to St. Petersburg. All on board are killed.

July 9, 2006: At least 124 people die when an S7 Airbus A-310 skids off the runway in Irkutsk and bursts into flames.

May 3, 2006: An A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia crashes into the Black Sea while trying to land in Sochi in rough weather, killing all 113 people aboard.

August 2004: Ninety people die when a Tu-154 operated by Sibir (now known as S7) and a Tu-134 jet operated by small regional carrier Volga-Aviaexpress are blown up, apparently by Chechen suicide bombers, within minutes of each other.

July 2002: A Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 flying from Ufa to Barcelona, Spain, collides with a cargo plane over Germany, killing 71, including 52 children.

October 2001: A Sibir Tu-154 flying to Novosibirsk from Tel Aviv, Israel, explodes and plunges into the Black Sea, killing 78 people, most of them Israeli citizens. It was later determined that the plane was hit by a Ukrainian missile during military training exercises.

July 2001: A Vladivostokavia Tu-154 crashes on final approach to the Irkutsk airport, killing all 143 on board.

December 1997: A Tu-154 charter plane from Tajikistan crashes in the United Arab Emirates, killing 85 passengers and crew.

March 1997: Fifty passengers and crew die when the tail of their An-24 charter plane from Stavropol breaks off mid-flight while en route to Trabzon, Turkey.

August 1996: A Tu-154 charter plane carrying Russian and Ukrainian miners and their families to work on Norway's Arctic island of Spitzbergen crashes into a mountain, killing all 143 on board.

— AP, MT



Channel One showed dozens of small fires scattered around the crash site early Sunday. Footage filmed later in the day showed scraps of twisted metal and tatters of clothing and paper as far as the eye could see.

Emergency workers sealed off the site and retrieved two flight recorders that could help experts reconstruct the flight's last moments. Boeing offered assistance in analyzing the recordings.

Railway workers waited near the site until 5 p.m., when they were allowed to begin to repair the tracks. Traffic resumed on one of the tracks at 8 p.m.

The plane was carrying 82 passengers, including seven children, and a crew of six. In addition to Russians, the victims included nine Azeris, five Ukrainians, French citizens Eric Atlan and Yelena Chetyrkina, Christian Sobek of Germany, Tomaso Martinazzo of Italy, Bobir Taymetov of the United States, Fang Fang of Switzerland, Mikhail Golomonzin of Latvia and Levent Nuri Kocak of Turkey, Aeroflot said.

Troshev, a retired colonel general who served as a military adviser to President Dmitry Medvedev, was heading to a sambo martial arts competition, Interfax reported.

Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered their condolences, and Perm Governor Oleg Chirkunov declared Monday a day of mourning.

Aeroflot director Valery Okulov told reporters that Aeroflot Nord would no longer be allowed to use the Aeroflot name. Aeroflot made the decision after performing internal checks at the subsidiary, Okulov said, without elaborating.

Aeroflot insured the flight with insurance company Moskva and will pay relatives of the deceased up to 2 million rubles per victim, the airline said. It flew relatives from Moscow to Perm on a regular flight Sunday.

The last major accident involving state-controlled Aeroflot was in March 1994, when an Airbus jet crashed in Siberia after the pilot's teenage son inadvertently switched off the autopilot, killing 70 people.