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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

120 Perish in Siberian Air Disaster

All 120 passengers aboard a Moscow-bound flight from Siberia died Monday when their Baikal Air jet crashed and exploded shortly after takeoff in the worst domestic aviation accident Russia has seen in nearly a decade, officials said.

Among the dead were 15 foreigners, including eight German tourists, an Austrian woman, a Japanese student, an Indian businessman and four Chinese citizens.

An engine on the Baikal Air Tupolev-154 caught fire shortly after takeoff at 6:45 A.M. Moscow time, prompting the pilot to head back to the Irkutsk airport, according to emergency workers contacted in Irkutsk. The fire disabled the aircraft and caused it to crash onto a field about 12 kilometers from the city.

"All the passengers and crew died, most burning to death or suffocating," said Oleg Semeznyov, deputy head of the Irkutsk Civil Defense Service.

"At the site of the crash, only the plane's tail, wheels, and engine remain," he said. "In total there were about 50 bodies strewn about."

The remaining victims had either been incinerated or were too damaged to be identified, he said.

Of the 15 foreigners aboard the flight, most were tourists who had celebrated the New Year in and around Irkutsk, a city nestled on the shores of Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake. Eight were Germans traveling with an Intourist guide.

Veronique Gerard, 27, a French woman returning from a visit to her boyfriend, was also supposed to have been on the flight, but was not on the passenger manifest. She had not been accounted for Monday evening, according to a friend, Pascale Bonnamour, who had gone to meet the plane at Moscow's Domodedovo airport.

Many of the Russian passengers were businessmen able to afford the 191,000 ruble ($152) fare. They included the deputy director of the Irkutsk aluminum factory and several other company officials. At least one small child was also on board.

In addition, the Air Baikal crew of nine was among the 120 dead. Air Baikal is a regional successor of Aeroflot.

President Boris Yeltsin expressed condolences in a telegram, Russian television reported.

"I learned of the tragedy in the Irkutsk region with profound grief," he wrote. "A fateful combination of circumstances has snatched away the lives of people's fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters."

A team of experts headed by Transportation Minister Vitaly Yefimov left Moscow on Monday night for Irkutsk to investigate the cause of the accident, Itar-Tass reported.

Local officials have found the black box containing the flight recorder, Semeznyov said in a telephone interview. About 300 rescue workers were searching the site for evidence and cleaning away human remains Monday.

Flight 130 took off on a clear day in temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius. The flight was about two-thirds full, officials said.

The jet had reached about 4,000 meters -- well below its cruising altitude -- when the pilot radioed back to Irkutsk traffic control with news of the engine fire. Almost immediately thereafter, its radio signals fell dead, and it crashed and exploded at 6:56 A.M. Moscow time, just 11 minutes into what should have been a five-hour flight, according to both Moscow and Irkutsk officials.

The crash landing killed cattle on the ground, but did not cause any additional human casualties, Semeznyov said. Several Russian media outlets reported, however, that a farm worker may have been killed when the plane skidded across farmland.

There were conflicting reports as to whether the aircraft exploded after crash-landing or while still in the air, but Semeznyov said fire engulfed the plane only after impact.

Relatives and friends waiting for Flight 130 to arrive at Moscow's Domodedovo airport had no idea of its fate, and the flight information board continued to announce a 12:15 P.M. arrival hours after the crash occurred. Telephone information operators also told callers that the flight was scheduled to land on time.

"It can't be," said Viktor Zolovkin, who was waiting to meet the flight. "Why didn't they announce that the plane was not coming? I called and they said the flight was arriving and then they announced it."

By word of mouth, those meeting passengers eventually learned that they could get information about the flight only through the airport police down the hall. Many seemed numb with disbelief after hearing the news.

Sergei Boranovsky, duty head of Domodedovo airport, said that the 20 or so relatives, friends and drivers were not told immediately to prevent panic. Some still did not know the fate of their relatives and friends Monday evening, however.

In 1992, 82 people died in Ivanovo northeast of Moscow, and in 1984, 150 were killed when a Tu-154 crashed into a fuel tanker in Omsk.

"For larger flights, this is very, very rare," said Boranovsky. 0

Foreign TollThe Moscow Times

Aviation and disaster officials said Monday that 15 foreigners died on the ill-fated Air Baikal Flight 130 from Irkutsk to Moscow. The following list of names is preliminary; officials have not yet released the names of the flight's four Chinese passengers.

Gudrun Buck, 48, German tourist

Yasar Celik, 23, German tourist

Tsui Dakhai, Chinese citizen

Stefan Ickstein, 26, German tourist

Gundi Landwehr, 22, German tourist

Zoe Marshall, Austrian tourist

Elen Meise, 55, German tourist

Tieko Noda, 25, Japanese student

Vijender Rathee, 25, Indian businessman

Oliver Rothmann, 59, German tourist

Peter Stuber, 39, German tourist

Wang, Chinese citizen

Wang Veiwin, Chinese citizen

Wang Ziangsina, Chinese citizen

Herbert Wecharn, 55, German tourist