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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Jet Crash Kills 12


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A Russian cargo plane crashed and exploded in flames while trying to make an emergency landing after takeoff from Belgrade on Monday. Officials in Moscow said all 12 aboard were killed.

Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry identified the victims aboard the privately owned Il-76 cargo plane as 10 crew members and two cargo handlers.

Yugoslav air crash investigators said the four-engine jet plunged into a cornfield 3.5 kilometers northeast of Belgrade airport at 3:16 a.m.

They said in a statement that the probable cause of the crash was "a failure of the plane's electronic system.''

A security official said the plane was loaded with a cargo classified as "B" -- military supplies including ammunition.

But the spokesman from Spair, a Yekaterinburg-based company that owns the plane, denied the report, and insisted it was carrying 14.5 tons of car wheels and half a ton of rescue flares from Belgrade to Malta.

The plane took off from Belgrade airport en route for Malta at 10 minutes after midnight, said Karl Smolikov, a spokesman for the Russian ministry.

The plane lost all radio contact with air traffic control after taking off from Belgrade and was apparently trying to use up all its fuel before attempting to return, said an air control official. The plane circled at low altitude over Belgrade for more than three hours before it plunged to the ground, witnesses said.

"It zoomed over our heads several times before crashing,'' said Milan Spasic, an airport employee. "It nearly hit the control tower on one of the passes.''

Thousands of Belgraders were awakened by the unusually low-flying aircraft and watched the drama unfold from their apartment windows and balconies.

The plane's navigation lights were off, indicating power failure. Smolikov said that for unknown reasons the plane caught fire on descent.

Belgrade radio stations said the pilot, in his last radio contact with air control 15 minutes after takeoff, reported "the total failure'' of his systems.

Explosions and what appeared to be tracer ammunition from the burning wreckage were seen and heard hours after the crash.

Local television showed night-time pictures of the burning aircraft, with a series of small, rapid explosions coming from what appeared to be the fuselage.

Military and civilian police sealed off the area, as a strong smell of cordite, the explosive material used in ammunition, drifted across the airport.

The aircraft's tail jutted above the still-smoking and blackened field -- the only visible remains of the Illyushin which witnesses said was almost completely destroyed in the crash.

Officials from Spair were flying to Belgrade to investigate the incident.

The company spokesman said Spair is a private charter company founded in 1990 with a fleet of 12 Soviet-built planes, including two Illyushin-76 cargo aircraft. ()