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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazakh, Saudi Jets Collide, 351 Killed

Combined Reports

NEW DELHI -- A Saudi jumbo jet collided with a Kazakh airliner Tuesday near New Delhi, exploding in flames and sending fiery wreckage plunging into farm fields.

Aviation officials said 351 people were believed killed in the third-deadliest air crash ever.

Agence France Presse reported from Almaty that the Kazakh Ilyushin 76, originally described as a cargo aircraft, was chartered by a private tourism company. The agency quoted airport and air transport department sources.

The aircraft from the Kazakh national carrier Kazakhstan Airlines was chartered by the Jana-Arka company for a trip to New Delhi, a source at the Kazakh department of air transport said.

A source at Chimkent airport, in southern Kazakhstan, also said the plane was on a charter flight and carrying 33 people, including 25 passengers and a crew of eight.

He told AFP in Moscow by telephone the plane was an Il-76 and not a Tupolev 154 as suggested by original reports of the collision.

The passengers were Kazakh nationals who were flying to New Delhi for a short trip, the source added.

These kind of short holidays known as "shop tours" are very popular in the republics of the former Soviet Union.

The Il-76 is a four-engine plane that can carry up to 50 tons of cargo and reach a cruising speed of 750 kilometers per hour.

Director general of civil aviation, H.S. Khola, told a press conference 351 people had died, adding: "There is no information about any survivors."

The Saudi plane, a Boeing 747, had just taken off from Indira Gandhi International Airport bound for Saudi Arabia when it hit the Kazakh plane as it was making its landing approach, Indian news reports said.

The British Foreign office said a British passenger was believed aboard the Saudi plane. Another 16 foreigners were believed aboard -- nine Nepalis, three Pakistanis, two Americans, a Bangladeshi, and a Saudi.

Police said the collision took place after nightfall about 100 kilometers west of Delhi near the town of Charkhi Dadri.

Seven minutes after takeoff, the Saudi plane was cleared to climb to 4,200 meters and the Kazakh aircraft from Chimkent was authorized to descend to 4,500 meters, said H.S. Khola, the director general of civil aviation.

"At about 18:40 p.m., the radar blip of both aircraft was lost,'' he told a news conference.

Reuters reported that a U.S. Air Force pilot said he and crew members of his cargo plane saw "two fireballs" plunge from the sky.

"In the distance off our right-hand side, two fireballs seemed to appear ... diverging away from each other," the pilot told reporters at the Pentagon by telephone from India. "The two fireballs proceeded to descend down and hit the ground and became fireballs on the ground."

The wreckage of the planes fell on farm fields, but no one on the ground was believed to have been killed. safety standards in the Indian aviation system. W. N. Deshmukh, chairman of the government-sponsored Safety Commission for Aviation, told AFP: "Safety standards in India, I believe, are the worst in the world. Runways are poorly lit and there is no regular update on modern aviation equipment."

He added: "There is not enough awareness of the dangers of human error. Last year a plane overshot the runway in New Delhi because of lack of planning by the pilot."

Deshmukh added that a crash in October 1988 which cost 131 lives in the Indian city of Ahmedabad had also been attributed to human error.

K. Giriprakash, civil aviation correspondent with the Business Standard newspaper, added: "Kazakhstan and India have no agreement on air traffic control.

"The accident may have occurred because there was a communication gap. This could be one of the main reasons as both the nations use different navigational aids."

Tuesday's collision here was one of the worst air crashes in recent years and the second major crash this month.

On Nov. 10, 142 people were killed when a Boeing 727 crashed in marshlands north of Lagos, Nigeria.

The Nigerian ADC airlines flight was on a one-hour run between Port Harcourt and Lagos when the accident, whose cause has not been established, occurred.

In other major crashes this year, a Brazilian airliner plunged into a densely populated area of Sao Paulo on Oct. 31, killing all 96 people aboard and two people on the ground.

A TWA jet crashed shortly after take off from New York on July 17, killing all 230 people on board, and investigators are still trying to pinpoint the cause.

The worst air tragedy on record came in 1977 when two Boeing 747s operated by Pan American and KLM collided at the airport on Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands, killing 582 people. In 1985, a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crashed into a mountain on a domestic flight, killing 520.

Until Friday's crash, the third-deadliest crash was the 1974 accident outside Paris involving a Turkish DC-10 that killed 346 people.

AFP reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that a team of Saudi experts is to assist in the probe of the mid-air collision. ()