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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thousands Pay Respects to Il-86 Crew

ReutersA relative of Konstantin Ivanov, the flight commander of the Pulkovo Il-86 jet, grieving at the funeral Thursday in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Thousands of mourners gathered Thursday to pay last respects to the 14 crew members who died after an Il-86 passenger plane lurched upward and crashed shortly after taking off from Sheremetyevo Airport.

Pilots and flight attendants from St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo Airlines stood in an honor guard near the 14 coffins, which were covered with flowers and uniform caps worn by airline staff. Tearful relatives huddled nearby.

The Il-86 had just carried 250 passengers from the Black Sea resort of Sochi to Moscow and was returning July 28 to its home airport in St. Petersburg with only crew aboard when it slammed into a wooded area just off the landing strip from Sheremetyevo-1.

Two flight attendants who were sitting in the back of the plane survived. One has since been released from a hospital, and Itar-Tass reported Thursday that the other is expected to be hospitalized for another week.

Officials say the plane started climbing almost vertically 42 seconds after takeoff, causing it to stall and crash. Investigators say the plane's stabilizer shifted to an extreme angle, causing the nose to jerk upward, but they have not yet determined whether this was due to a technical malfunction or pilot error.

Investigators are now studying the plane's twin flight data recorders and debris from the crash site. A spokeswoman for Pulkovo Airlines said it could take several more weeks before they reach their final conclusion.

"For now we just heard that something went wrong with the stabilizer," said Yelena Yelagina, a spokeswoman for Pulkovo Airlines. "But it may take a month more to get the results of the investigation."

During Thursday's ceremony, near St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport, the husband and daughter of one of the crash victims, 39-year-old flight attendant Natalya Fetisova, touched their heads to her coffin.

"It was a highly qualified crew," said one Pulkovo Airlines pilot, who declined to give his name. "I knew all of them."

Since the crash, officials have said they would conduct tests on all Il-86 jumbo jets, one of the main workhorses of Russian airlines. The Il-86 had previously been considered a very reliable plane without any fatal crashes in the 30 years it has been in use.

Pulkovo Airlines said it would pay $18,000 in compensation to families of those killed in the crash, in accordance with the crew's work contract, Interfax reported. The families are also due to receive 100,000 rubles ($3,150) from an insurance company, Interfax said.

The crew members were to be buried Thursday in various cemeteries in St. Petersburg, the nearby town of Gatchina and in the Pskov region.