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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An-24 Crash Kills at Least 28

An An-24 passenger plane crashed Wednesday after its tail fell apart as it prepared to land near a LUKoil port in the Far North. At least 28 of the more than 50 people on board were killed.

The twin turboprop plane was operated by tiny Kemerovo-based Regional Airlines, and most of the passengers were employed by LUKoil subsidiaries. No foreigners were on board the plane, LUKoil said.

The pilot radioed air traffic controllers that he had spotted the runway on final approach to the Varandei airport in the Nenets autonomous district when the plane's tail started to break up, Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Gennady Korotkin said late Wednesday.

The pilot tried to make an emergency landing, but the plane abruptly banked to the left and slammed into the ground five kilometers from the runway, bursting into flames, he said.

"It fell on its left side, there was a fire, and that's it," Korotkin said on Rossia television.

It was unclear how many people were on board the plane, with conflicting reports putting the number at 52 or 53.

The plane was carrying 45 or 46 passengers as well as a four-member cockpit crew, the flight attendant and the two off-duty engineers, aviation officials said.

Twenty-four people survived, and 10 of them were hospitalized in critical condition. They included 18 Naryanmarneftegaz employees, the copilot, the flight attendant and two off-duty airline engineers, Interfax reported.

After the crash, survivors immediately contacted authorities by satellite phone, and rescuers rushed to the crash site, emergency officials said.

Another An-24 plane crashed when its tail fell apart in 1997, killing all 50 people on board. The Stavropol Airlines plane went down 32 minutes after takeoff from Stavropol on a charter flight to Turkey. It remains unclear what caused the March 18, 1997, crash.

Investigators were examining three scenarios for what might have caused Wednesday's crash, Interfax reported. "There are three reasons for the air crash under consideration: a side wind, the crew's unfamiliarity with the location and an aircraft technical malfunction," a local emergency official was quoted as saying.

Investigators were searching for the Regional Airlines' flight recorders Wednesday night.

Senior aviation officials said it was too early to speculate about what had gone wrong.

"The investigation commission is departing for the site of the crash. We would not like to speculate on the reasons before their conclusions," said Oleg Yermolov, deputy director of the Interstate Aviation Committee, an aviation regulatory body for former Soviet countries that investigates crashes.

Another senior aviation official said he was baffled by the crash. "The weather was good, the crew was professional and the aircraft was airworthy. ... It is not clear what happened," said Yevgeny Lobachev, head of the flight monitoring department at the Federal Transportation Inspection Service.

The sky was clear, and the temperature was minus 24 Celsius, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

The captain, Viktor Popov, had more than 14,000 flight hours.

The plane vanished from air traffic radar screens at 1:42 p.m. Moscow time, aviation officials said. It crashed 15 minutes later, at 1:57 p.m. The plane, which had taken off from Ufa in the southern Urals, made stops in the cities of Perm and Usinsk on its way north to Varandei. LUKoil said most of the passengers were from the Perm region.

The plane was built in 1972 and had been repaired 10 times, most recently in 2002, the Transportation Ministry said. It was licensed to fly all domestic routes.

Regional Airlines operates one other An-24 and a Mi-2 helicopter. The airline was set up in 2002, and its federal license was extended in January 2004 for two more years, Lobachev said.

The Transportation Ministry said it would be premature to ground all An-24s after Wednesday's crash, Interfax reported. A total of 214 An-24s are registered in Russia, and domestic airlines have 116 of them in service. Most of those planes have been flying for years and have remaining life spans of five to 10 years.

The An-24 was designed in the late 1950s for short- and medium-haul flights.

Wednesday's crash was the third this year, after an An-2 and a Mi-8, the Federal Transportation Inspection Service said. It said there were six crashes last year, killing a total of 50 people, and 11 accidents that did not result in casualties. The figures do not include the two passenger planes that were blown up in midair in August, killing 90 people.

The most recent An-24 crash took place in 2000 in Luanda, Angola, when the aircraft crashed after takeoff. The last crash on descent was in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1996, killing 53 people.

In a rare case, an Aeroflot An-24 collided with a Tu-16 bomber in midair in 1981, killing all but one passenger, who miraculously survived the 5-kilometer fall in a piece of wreckage.

The An-24 entered service in 1962, and 1,100 aircraft have been produced. More than 200 aircraft have been exported to 26 countries. The plane is built to carry 48 to 52 passengers.